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The following homily was given by Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron on Sunday, October 11, 2015, at a Mass marking significant anniversaries of service for deacons in the Archdiocese of Detroit.
Please let me preface my preaching – my reflection on the Scripture – with a word of congratulations to those of you who celebrate important landmark anniversaries. Though it does seem to me that there’s a difference between five years and thirty-five years, anniversaries are important and I want to thank those deacons who are celebrating anniversaries for your service. And not only those deacons, but your wives. I know how intimately wives are involved in the lives of your husbands and I praise God for that. Indeed to the whole community of deacons; you mutually support one another, so a word of congratulations to all of you.
“Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you are. Believe what you read, preach what you believe, practice what you preach.”
A jubilee celebration, whether it’s the life of a married couple, an ordinand, or a parish is always about past and future; an opportunity to give thanks to God for what has been and to be renewed in one’s consecration for what lies ahead. As I have considered the message presented to us by the readings appointed for us on this Sunday, it seems more appropriate for me to speak to you about being consecrated anew and particularly in your service of the Word, and so I’ve quoted the ordination liturgy, the words the bishop said to you when you were ordained: receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you are.
Obviously I’ve made this selection because the scriptures today are very much about the Gospel, about the Word whose herald you are. The letter to the Hebrews has a passage that’s classic in speaking about the power of God’s word; how deeply it pierces us; seems to say just what we need to hear. Sometimes now what we want to hear, but what we recognize we do need to hear. God’s word, God’s insight, God’s identification of what it means – whatever it is – these circumstances, what I’m involved in, the trouble I’m facing, the problem I have, the joy I feel; it pierces to the heart, lays open my heart. This is its power. The Gospel describes for us what this Word indeed is. This Word is Jesus addressing – in the Gospel – the rich young man, but addressing everyone who’s looking for the kingdom of God. It’s a word that says, “if you want the kingdom, you’ll have to love me more than anything else. It’s the only way in, There’s no bargaining, there’s no negotiating to come into the kingdom of God”.
In this young man’s case, it was about money. Perhaps it’s not money in my case. I know what are the things that I would like to bargain with God about. For many people it might be health, for example, but we all are tempted to put things on a somewhat same status as belonging to Jesus Christ. And the Word of God is always addressed to the heart; pierces through everything, and says, “If you want the kingdom, if you want me – because Jesus is the kingdom – you must put everything else beneath me.” And you notice that Jesus loved this man, he looked at him in love, because what this man said he wanted was the love of Jesus, and what Jesus offered this man was His love and a call to reciprocate it. How else could it be? How could there be any kind of negotiated love with Jesus because Jesus Himself became poor – totally poor – even to the point of giving up his life in death, having to be buried in a grave that wasn’t even his own. When Jesus looked in the eyes of this rich young man, what He offered was this love and what He asked for was for it to be reciprocated. How could this not be powerful - this look from Jesus, this invitation and this summons? And so, brothers, whatever you preach on, whatever the Gospel is about – whether it’s on Good Friday or All Saints Day, or just Wednesday of the fifth week in ordinary time – it’s always about this. This is the good news. This is the Word whose herald you are. It is the power of the offer of the love of Jesus Christ and it is the strength of the response that Jesus requires in return.
If I might particularly focus on the point by mentioning something contemporary I would like to do that. If you follow the news reports, there are many commentators at the Synod of Bishops in Rome who create or speak of a kind of antithesis. Some bishops are for mercy, some bishops are for truth, saying there can’t really be mercy without truth; you can’t offer the good news without calling for repentance. There is one way to think about that that might make it easy to be confused and not understand how mercy and truth go together. Is it simply that to get God’s mercy we have to endure a heavy truth? No, that’s not really the Gospel word. The Gospel word is that the truth is the mercy because the truth is Jesus. The truth is that in the kingdom of God there can be no compromise with love. You’re all in or you’re not in at all. That’s Jesus’ word always, and that’s good news.
The good news is that we can love that way because we have first been loved that way. Sometimes the blind alley people get into is that they imagine that the demands of belonging to Jesus are simply a kind of code; a set of moral norms. Yes, we can make a case that we follow a reasonable, a naturally reasonable set of moral norms, but we follow them because they’re the way we give ourselves to Jesus and we abhor not following them; we lament. We’re patient certainly, but always sad when we fail to follow them because we have disappointed His love and we would never went to compromise on the standard of love He sets for us.
Or perhaps people get themselves into a kind of blind alley about mercy and truth because they think that what one has to accept in this truth is a kind of catalogue of creedal statements. Yes, the Word of God can be articulated out into the propositions of the Creed, but the propositions are only good news because in them, Jesus is inviting us to love Him in the same measure with which He has first loved us: to sell everything, to give up our negotiating and simply collapse in His hands. To love Him in the measure he has loved us.
Perhaps even it’s this simple: Sometimes when I read secular commentators I think that they imagine that what we believe as Gospel truth is a kind of political platform which can be voted on. You heard what Jesus said to the rich young man. “If you would love me, if you want to come after me – and I would love to have you with me!” – He looked at him and loved him; he wanted this – “but if you’re going to do it, Jesus said you’re going to have to sell veering” That’s the meaning of the Gospel, the news of which we serve as heralds. It’s both our burden and our joy, because as the bishop said on the day of your ordination, you have to believe what you read, and you have to preach what you believe.
It’s not always easy to demand this kind of total self-giving from others. Maybe the most difficult thing is that we preachers have to practice what we read and preach and believe. But there can be no other way. If with Jesus there were some other way, some kind of compromise, then He isn’t really the one sent from the Father. We should look for somebody else; somebody who really calls us to our ultimate vocation. But He is sent from the Father, there will come no other, no further word. What word could come that would add anything to Jesus, to his love, to his total self-giving, and his call for us to make an unconditional surrender of ourselves to him? His truth is His mercy.
All I have said, so far, is simply a prelude to what will occur as you renew your commitment to be ministers of the Gospel, servants of the poor. You will articulate that before the prayers of the faithful. But even that is a prelude. The real renewal of your consecration occurs at Holy Communion. The Eucharist is where Jesus is all in for us and calls us to be all in for Him.
Deacons, especially, by your ordination you have become ministers, above all, of the Chalice, of the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ: This most powerful sacrament, sacramental presence, of the all-in, unconditional love of Jesus Christ. And when you and I – all of us – when we drink from that Chalice, we pledge to Jesus that we would sell everything – we would even give up our lives – rather than lose Him. We would give up the last drop of our blood for Him who has given up the last drop of His blood for love of us. This is he good news, and I praise and thank God that you love this news, that you believe this news, that you have been faithful to preaching this news, that you lament and don’t give yourselves an excuse when you fail, and that you have resolved to persevere in believing what you read, preaching what you believe, and practicing what you preach: This word, who is Jesus Christ, the love of the Father, incarnate.