How many times have you heard that command of Jesus to spread the Gospel everywhere, take the good news to the ends of the earth? Probably all of us have heard it many, many times now. But how seriously have we taken it? The idea that you, I, and every one of us has to be a witness to the good news of Jesus, to be the ones who take that good news wherever we go so that it really goes to the ends of the earth.
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
In the final part of Luke's description of Jesus' life, he puts it a bit more clearly even when Jesus tells them, "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria even to the ends of the earth, you will be my witnesses." Again, I wonder how many of us really take that seriously and think of ourselves as witnesses to the good news of Jesus? If we do take it seriously, what is the good news that we're going to spread?
I think on this feast of the Most Holy Trinity, we have an opportunity to really, in some way, understand perhaps better than on another feast day or another Sunday of what is the good news. Now in the first lesson today, we heard Moses insisting to the people, "Be convinced that God is the only God of heaven and earth, and there is no other." Those first disciples were Jews. They really understood that and believed that -- there is no other God.
On heaven and earth there is no other, and yet, as we hear from St. Paul today, "All those who follow in the spirit of God are sons and daughters of God. Ours will be the inheritance of God, and we will share it with Christ. For if we now suffer with him, we will also share glory with him." In other words, we are his brothers and sisters. Then in the Gospel, we hear more explicitly that ties in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Something has happened.
But actually, it took 300 years for this to become clear within the Christian community. The doctrine of the Trinity wasn't proclaimed as the doctrine of the church until the Council of Nicaea in the year 325. All those years, the people were struggling to come to understand God somehow -- not that we understand ever this mystery, but to begin to understand that God was one God as Moses had declared so clearly, but God, one God in three persons.
Now, we'll never be able to understand how that can be, and yet we get a sense of what it can be when we listen to the first letter of the disciple John, a passage that is very well known to us, where John writes: "God is love. Where there is love, there is God. This is the love that I mean, not that we loved God, but that God first loved us and draws us into God's life." God is love. If there's love, there has to be someone loved.
There has to be the bond that unites. So if God is love, then God is really a community of persons loving. God is love -- Father, Son and Spirit, or Creator, Word and Spirit. There is a community of love who is God. That's what we're called to witness to -- how God first loved us, how God is love, and where there is love, there is God. Throughout the history of the church, there have been many people who have given that witness in a dramatic way.
Last weekend, you may remember in El Salvador, we celebrated. It was happening there, but the whole church celebrated how Oscar Romero, the archbishop who had been murdered in 1980 because of his love and work for the poor, was declared a saint. There was a person who understood how to witness to God's love by following the way of Jesus, by being like Jesus. Remember the passage in the Gospel (I think most of us do because it's one that is so striking) where the young man comes up to Jesus and says, "What must I do to gain everlasting life?" Jesus said, "Keep the commandments." This is a Jew and a Jew talking to a Jew.
"Keep the commandments."
"Well, I've done that from my youth."
Then Jesus says, "If you really want to be my disciple, leave everything, sell what you have and come follow me. Live as I live, listen to what I say, follow that, watch how I act, and be like that." That's what Oscar Romero did. Jesus reached out to the poor, didn't he? Always. He welcomed the poor and he reached out to them.
That's what Oscar Romero did. He talked in his sermons so often about how in that country -- but it's even true in the world, it's true in our country -- how so few have so much and so many have so little. That's wrong. God made the world for all, not for a few. Oscar Romero began to try to change that in his country so that the poor would have a chance for a full human life. That's following Jesus. That's witnessing to Jesus.
That's witnessing to the love of God. How seriously have we taken that? We live in a country where more and more, so few have so much, so many have so little, and it's not right. Are we looking into why that happens and what we can do to change it? If we follow Jesus, that's what we begin to do. If you're going to be witnesses to Jesus, you have to understand who Jesus was, how he lived, how he acted, and what he said.
Every Sunday, when we come to liturgy, we listen to the Scriptures. We can discover more and more about Jesus and how to follow him if we take the time to listen, to reflect, and to act. That's what it will mean to be a witness to Jesus. Pope Francis, obviously, has shown us in so many ways how he understands Jesus. He's attracted the attention of the whole world simply because he is following Jesus.
People see in him an authenticity, a reality that proclaims the message of Jesus. We must try to do the same thing in our everyday life. In fact, in our church, we talk about vocations, how we have to have more vocations. But usually, we mean by that to the religious life, to the priesthood. But you know the most important vocation in the church is the vocation of married people. If you go back to the marriage ceremony, the prayer that we say is asking God's blessing on this person and that person, the bride and the groom because they are called to be witnesses to the love of Jesus.
We pray, "God, you have made marriage a holy mystery, a symbol of the love of Jesus for his church. So we pray today for this person and this person who are united in marriage and that their lives may always bear witness to the reality of that love." In other words, by loving one another in their married life, sharing that love with their children, spreading that love in their neighborhood, in their community, they are witnessing to God, to the God who is one God in three persons, to the God who is love, to the God who manifests that love -- the visible image of the invisible God -- Jesus by sharing his teaching, living according to his way of love.
This morning, then, as we reflect on these Scriptures and we celebrate this feast of the Holy Trinity, the feast that celebrates the inner life of God, the God who is love and the God who shares that love with all of us, as we celebrate this, I hope we begin to understand more clearly how important it is that each one of us in our everyday life finds some way that we more clearly witness to how God loves us and we love God, and we love God by loving our brothers and sisters.
"This is the love that I mean," St. John says. "Not that we first loved God, but that God first loved us." As Jesus told his first disciples at the Last Supper in his last sharing with them, "This is my one commandment: Love one another as I have loved you. There is no greater love than this than to lay down your life for your friends. Don't just love those who love you, love your enemies. Do good to those that hurt you."
There are so many ways in which we can be witnesses to this mystery of God -- the one God who is love and who wherever God is brings love into that place. We are witnesses to that. So I hope as we leave the church today, we leave with a greater determination to live our lives in such a way that we witness how Jesus lived for others and that we bring the love of God into our world in every possible way so that this message of Jesus will be carried, as he said, "to the ends of the earth."
[Homily given at St. Philomena Catholic Church in Detroit. 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.]