We need unconditional love, forgiveness at every level in our lives

by Thomas Gumbleton

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Obviously, once more as we listen to these Scripture lessons this morning, we become aware and perhaps begin to feel again somewhat of the excitement and the joy that those first disciples felt when Jesus went through death to new life. They found it very difficult to believe this, and I think sometimes we fail to experience the fullness of joy of this Easter feast because we almost take it too much for granted. "Yes, Jesus rose from the dead; let's move on." No. It's so much more important to stop and really try to experience what those first disciples experienced.

Third Sunday of Easter
Acts 3:13-15, 17-19
Psalms 4:2, 4, 7-8, 9
1 John 2:1-5a
Luke 24:35-48
Full text of the readings

It wasn't just that Jesus was resuscitated and came back to live again the life he had been living before. No, it's a whole new Jesus -- Jesus who they knew as one like themselves in his humanness, and yet Jesus who is transformed and is the son of God in power, the second person of the Trinity. And the disciples then, and we, too, I think, found it hard to see how this Jesus ... now in their midst there at the table in the village of Emmaus, he opens the Scriptures and breaks the bread, and they realize it's Jesus, the same one they've known for these years they traveled with them.

But now Jesus is totally transformed, a new way of life, and in this episode on that Easter Sunday night when those disciples come back from Emmaus and join the other disciples in the upper room, Jesus is suddenly there in their midst. But it's really Jesus. "Touch me; touch me. Do you have something to eat?" And he eats it. He wants them to realize yes, he is alive. He's in their midst in this glorious transformed way, and it's very difficult to try to put into words. In fact, we really can't put into words what happened to Jesus.

If you go to the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, at the end of that letter in chapter 15, Paul is trying to explain what this resurrection means: "This I say, brothers and sisters, flesh and blood cannot share the reign of God. Nothing of us that is to decay can reach imperishable life. So I want to teach you this mystery. Although not all of us will die, all of us will have to be transformed."

Paul was writing at a time when he and the church thought Jesus was coming back in a very short time and some would still be alive when he returned. So he says, "All, not all of us will die, but all of us will be transformed in an instant. When our perishable being puts on imperishable life, when our mortal being puts on immortality, the word of Scripture will be fulfilled. Death has been swallowed up by victory. Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?"

See, what Paul is trying to get across is the reality of the Resurrection, the risen new way of life, totally transformed. Yes, we're still human, but we share in the everlasting life of Jesus and are transformed into a whole new way of being. That's what Jesus is trying to get across in these appearances to the first disciples: that he is real, he is alive, he is in their midst, but he is totally transformed.

Once we really begin to let this reality enter into our awareness and realize that yes, this is a unique event in human history -- the resurrection of Jesus and a foretelling of the resurrection of every human being from all of history, the transformation into a new way of being human, but also sharing in a much deeper way in the everlasting life of God, becoming those who are born of the spirit, sons and daughters of God forever. I have a sense that no matter how long we try to reflect on this, how much we pray over it and let the reality of it try to sink in, we will still find it very difficult.

But perhaps we will again be able to experience some of that excitement, some of that joy that those first disciples did that enabled them then to go out and proclaim this good news. They were almost, in a sense, driven out of Jerusalem in a short time to proclaim everywhere that Jesus is alive. Jesus has come to transform all of creation into the reign of God. Jesus has come to transform each one of us into a whole new way of living as a son or daughter of God.

Yes, this Easter mystery that we continue to celebrate today and will for a few more weeks is a mystery that when we let the depth of it enter into our awareness, will give us great joy. But also again, as we reflected before and as we see in today's lessons, these disciples, when they are filled with that joy and they realize what has happened, they're ready to go and proclaim the good news. And the first and most important part of that good news is that God loves us. God never stops loving us, even when we fail.

See, this is what those disciples had experienced so fully on that Easter Sunday, especially the Easter Sunday night, when Jesus comes back to them. You remember on Easter Sunday and last Sunday and today, too, the first thing that Jesus says to those disciples: "Peace be with you." It's a peace that brings forgiveness, something they needed.

Obviously, they're going to be at this moment feeling unworthy. They had failed him. All of them had run away. Peter had denied, Judas had betrayed, and yet here he is in their midst, bringing the message of resurrection and new life and offering them peace, forgiveness, love without limit, without condition. That's the way God loves us, and it's so manifested in this resurrection of Jesus.

And that's the message that these disciples have to carry out into the world, the message you and I, as we begin to experience it deeply, must carry out into the world, that our whole church must carry out into the world. A message of forgiveness, which means we know we are forgiven, but also as we pray on the words Jesus taught us: "As God forgives us, we ask that we may forgive others. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive the trespasses of others." Yes, we know God forgives us, but are we willing to forgive in our everyday life?

And there are a couple of situations that demand forgiveness that reaches into everyone who belongs to the church. One of them is something that comes to my attention when a week or so ago, Pope Francis, in a very courageous way on the 100th anniversary of the first genocide, as it's taught or proclaimed and recognized of the 20th century, the genocide of the Armenians in what is now the country of Turkey.

And Pope Francis adverted to that and called for the recognition of what had happened to the Armenians because that's the way reconciliation can happen. And, as you may know, the Turkish government was very angry at this, and they have continued to deny this whole 100-year period that any genocide happened. And that's when it's very difficult to forgive -- when the perpetrator doesn't acknowledge the crime.

And yet, even as the church through Francis calls attention to this genocide, isn't it true that we as a church have to do much more to root out anti-Semitism in our midst? It's still there, and the horror of it came into fullness during that period when, under the Nazis, 6 million Jews were very clearly put to death. Genocide -- tried to destroy the whole Jewish race during that period of World War II.

In 2015, we will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the end of that genocide as the death camps were liberated, and yet our church still has not fully acknowledged our part. ... These were Christian nations who perpetrated that genocide. Our own nation refused to try to prevent it. We could have bombed the tracks that brought the trains to Auschwitz, but we did not, and that genocide went on. The church itself has not fully acknowledged how much we, as a church through the anti-Semitism that's even embedded in our Scriptures, were responsible for what happened.

We made some attempts. Pope John Paul II went to the wall in Jerusalem and put in that piece of paper acknowledging guilt and asking for forgiveness. But there's so much more that needs to be done to bring about a full awareness of what we had done, what the Christians have done to the Jews. That reconciliation and forgiveness is very difficult to bring about unless we confess our part and work ever more diligently to bring about a healing between the chosen people, God's people, and we Christian followers of Jesus.

That's just one area of where we need this forgiveness. There are many others in our daily life. And again, it's very difficult when someone does not admit to the crime, does not seek forgiveness. Right now, we're facing this situation of the young man in Boston. There are so many that are calling for vengeance: "Put him to death. Kill him." It's hard because so far he has not really acknowledged and shown repentance.

But that's exactly the kind of forgiveness, as difficult as it is, that Jesus asks of us. After all, when he confronted Judas in the garden -- reached out to him to forgive, embraced him, calling him friend -- Judas did not admit guilt and seek forgiveness, and yet Jesus embraced him, loved him, forgave him. That's the kind of extraordinary grace that we need to receive and to be able to use to forgive in a situation like the killer of the Boston Marathon event.

That's the kind of forgiveness we have to bring into our daily lives. Wherever we have been wounded and have been violated in some way, somehow, we have to reach deep within ourselves and bring forth the spirit of forgiveness and pray that as we do that, gradually the reconciliation can take place and the perpetrator will acknowledge guilt. Healing can happen.

That was the genius that Archbishop Desmond Tutu brought into the situation in South Africa after the apartheid system was broken apart. He organized these sessions where those who were perpetrators came forward, acknowledged their guilt in front of the victims. The victims forgave; the perpetrators acknowledged their responsibility. Reconciliation could begin to happen. Hatred could be destroyed, overcome.

It's a huge challenge, but at every level in our lives, in our world, we need this spirit of forgiveness, the spirit of love that is unconditional and that is unlimited, as God loves us. It's a tremendous challenge, but that's what the disciples went out into the world to do, to spread this message: "God loves us. God never stops loving us. God forgives us." We come to experience that as they did, and we try to spread the same message that will gradually bring peace into our lives, into our world.

As we do this forgiveness on individual levels in our everyday life, in our communities, but throughout the world, we can bring this message of Easter -- the message of new life, the message of forgiveness, the message of love. We can bring that into our world, and then, as Jesus wants to happen, the reign of God will break forth. Peace will come into our hearts, into our lives, and into our world.

[Homily given at St. Ann Catholic Church in Frankfort, 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.]

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