The way to peace is not through violence, but through love

by Thomas Gumbleton

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As I was reflecting on the readings for this Sunday, I thought that because they -- at least, the first reading and the Gospel reading -- emphasized being called, that maybe this is a vocation Sunday, a Sunday when we think about our own call to follow Jesus. There was a time, I'm sure, and many of you may remember this, when if you happened to go to a Catholic school especially, or another religious ed program, the parents sponsored a vocation day. But it was always focused on being a priest, brother, or religious nun, and so those were the vocations in the church.

Second Sunday of Ordinary Time
1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19
Psalms 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10
1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20
1 John 1:35-42
Full text of the readings

But the call that we're talking about, the real vocation, is the one that is happening in the Scriptures today. It's the call to every one of us to be a disciple of Jesus. A disciple of Jesus: one who is intent on listening to Jesus, hearing what he says, watching how he acts, and following him. And sometimes we might think that that's not so difficult, to follow Jesus. But if we explore a little bit of what it really means to follow Jesus, it's truly a challenge, but it's so important that every one of us try to deepen our awareness of our call and what it means.

In the Gospel today, the first ones called by Jesus -- Philip and Andrew, and then Simon the next day -- all of them immediately follow Jesus, even though at the time they didn't know exactly where he was going to lead them, what would be expected of them. In the Gospel of Luke, there's a passage where a young person, a young man, comes up to Jesus enthusiastically because he wants to follow Jesus, he thinks.

And he says, "Master, what must I do to gain everlasting life?" And Jesus says, "Keep the commandments." And the young man says, "Well, I've done that since my earliest youth." And so then, and this is in Luke's Gospel, Luke writes, "Jesus looked upon him with love." This was an enthusiastic young person whom Jesus could immediately love, and so he says to the young man, "Well, if you want to be my disciple, if you want to follow me, go sell what you have and give your wealth to the poor." And the young man turned away sad, according to Luke, because he had great wealth.

One of the things about following Jesus is that we have to come to terms with what it means to share the wealth of the world. We have to come to an understanding that everything we have is [a] gift. Oh yes, we worked for what we have, and yet underlying whatever we've done is all God has given to us, our very existence, and so everything that comes to us from God is a gift and is meant to be shared.

We have with us today the members of the East Side Council of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, a group that began well over a hundred years ago and modeled itself on the teachings of St. Vincent de Paul, who was a saint in the 18th century who spent his life administering to the poor. And one of the things that he taught his followers, and that became the spirit of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, was to have the right attitude when you serve the poor. Because isn't it true, it's so easy if we're giving something away, we have a sense that we're superior, we're better than the person who is desperately in need.

But St. Vincent said, "No, that's not the right attitude. The attitude you must have when you give to the poor is one of asking their forgiveness." Ask their forgiveness -- and what was St. Vincent driving at? Well, [in] his day, just as in our day, so many people are poor because the structures of our economic system force them into poverty. Things work against them. They're not poor because they're lazy or indifferent to working and things like that. So often, it's the structures.

See, Pope Francis has talked about that in his first encyclical letter, the structures that cause poverty. And so that's what Vincent de Paul said: "Ask forgiveness. That's your attitude, because part of what you have maybe is taken from the poor, and so what you give really belongs to them." For many of us, that may be a hard lesson, but it's part of what it means to follow Jesus, to have that true sense of what it means to be poor.

That we don't, for all our security and our material wealth, and we understand that it's all a gift from God and we're willing to share in whatever way we can, and to try to make sure that everyone shares in the goods of this earth that God gave for all and not for a few. That's one of the most basic things in following Jesus. And we hope that in that Gospel story, the young man at some point learned what Jesus was trying to teach him, [that] he came back and followed Jesus. But also I hope all of us are willing to look deeply at what it means when Jesus says, "You must be on the side of the poor. Be with the poor."

But then there's a second thing that, when we really understand what it means to follow Jesus, becomes very challenging. St. Peter learned this in kind of a hard way. It's recorded in Matthew's Gospel in the 16th chapter, when he had a marvelous experience. Jesus had asked the disciples, and I'm sure we remember this, "Who do people say I am?" You know, and some said, "Well, John the Baptist. Others say you're Elijah or one of the prophets come back." "Who do you say I am?"

Peter says, "You are the Christ, the son of the living God," and Jesus says to him, "Blessed are you, Simon, son of John, because flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but God in heaven. So you've been enlightened to know who I really am, the Christ, the son of the living God."

Well, right after that marvelous experience, the disciples continue with Jesus, their journey, and they were on the way to Jerusalem. And this is the last part of the life of Jesus, and Jesus stops them and tells them, "Look, I'm going up to Jerusalem. There I'll be handed over to my enemies, be tortured, nailed to a cross, crucified. But then on the third day, I'll rise again."

Well, Peter -- and I'm sure he was so impressed with the huge crowds that at that point were following Jesus -- says to Jesus, "No! You don't have to do that!" Peter was thinking in terms of Jesus having this huge following. He can draw people after them; they can overthrow the Roman occupiers. Jesus doesn't have to give himself over to his enemy, be tortured and executed.

You know what happened next? Jesus says, "Get behind me, you Satan!" ... Jesus calls [Peter] "Satan," a stumbling block, one who's trying to take Jesus away from his call. Peter had totally misunderstood how Jesus was to transform our world into the reign of God. It was not to be with power and might and force and violence. It was only being through love. Jesus said to Peter, "You are thinking according to human ways, not God's ways."

And what Jesus wanted Peter to understand, and he did later on understand this, as Jesus said about himself, "I, when I am lifted up on the cross, I will draw all people to myself," because of the love that Jesus was pouring out on every one of us and on our world. That's how the world will be transformed, through that power of love drawing everyone. And if we're to be a disciple of Jesus, that's our world to live.

In our opening prayer today, we prayed to the God who governs all things, oversees everything, and we asked God, "Show us the way to peace in our world," and God has done that through Jesus. The way to peace is not through violence, through war, through hatred. The way to peace is only through love, by loving even your enemies. Do good to those who hurt you. There are many examples of people down through history following Jesus who have rejected violence, and who follow this path of love.

One that Pope Francis has recently identified as a martyr is Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador [in El Salvador] who was murdered 35 years ago this March, [in] 1980. And Pope Francis has now declared Oscar Romero martyr, which means he'll soon be canonized a saint. And he was one who truly understood. He worked to overcome the oppression and the poverty, the injustice in El Salvador, and was hated by those who were profiting and benefitting from the structures of the society the way it was.

And while he was celebrating Mass on Monday of Holy Week in March of 1980, standing at the altar facing the people, an assassin opened the back door, fired one shot, struck him over the heart. He fell to the floor and died. But before he died, about two weeks before, he had been interviewed by a reporter who talked to him over the phone and was asking him, "Why don't you leave the country? Your name is on the death lists. They will kill you," and that was true.

And there were death lists published in the daily paper of people who were marked for assassination. His name was on the list, but he told the reporter, "Yes, I have been threatened with death many times, but I don't believe in death without resurrection. And even if they kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people." They did kill him and he has risen in the Salvadoran people. They are so aware of his presence in that country.

But then he went on to tell the reporter, "Look, as a shepherd, a bishop," he says, "I'm obliged by divine mandate to give my life for those I love, that is, for those who may be going to kill me." He understood that he almost certainly was to be murdered, but he would give his life for those he loved, that is, those who were to kill him. Love your enemy. And he told the reporter finally, he said, "Look, if, in fact, they kill me, you may tell them that even now, I love and forgive those who do it."

That's the example of following Jesus as a true disciple -- one who understands that we must love our enemies, do good to those who hurt us, return good for evil. That's the way of Jesus; you overcome violence through love. When we pray for God to help us to find the way to peace in our world, and we know how much we need that, violence is so rampant and so present in so many places. Extreme violence of war, kidnappings, executions, killings in our own country and other countries, the terrible things that just happened in France.

Violence; how will we ever change it? There's only one way -- it's the way of Jesus, the way of love: "I, when I am lifted up, being executed out of hatred, but pouring forth my love on all of those who are doing it on all people of all time, I will draw all people to myself." That's the way of love, and that's the way that God shows us to bring peace into our world. If we want to be a disciple of Jesus and truly follow him, then I think it's very important to do what Samuel did in our first lesson today, listen to Jesus, God speaking in the depths of our hearts, and try to follow where God leads us.

In little ways at first, but as we continue to grow in our discipleship, we become more and more like Jesus and more able then to carry on his work of transforming our world into the reign of God, the reign of peace and love and joy and fullness of life for every person. Yes, today is vocation Sunday, and every one of us can think about, "What is my vocation? How will I listen and follow Jesus as his disciple?"

[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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