Archbishop Vigneron's Homily at Episcopal Ordination

From The Most Reverend Allen H. Vigneron, Archbishop | Issued January 25, 2017

Given at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit on the occasion of the rite of episcopal consecration of Auxiliary Bishops Gerard Battersby and Robert Fisher.

You got me so enthused with your applause I was going to forget to preach. Maybe that was your idea. (Laughter)

It is a great blessing that the Holy Spirit has brought all of us here to the Cathedral. I offer a very warm welcome to all of you on this great day. Before I proceed to offer my reflection, as called for in the Pontifical, I'd like to particularly mention that today is the ordination anniversary of Cardinal Maida, and so, Your Eminience, heartfelt congratulations.

Your Excellency, Archbishop Pierre, we're so very blessed to have you with us here today as the personal representative of our Holy Father, Pope Francis. Your being here is a very particular reminder of what we are aware of every time we come to the Eucharist, that we are in communion with our Holy Father, the Pope, and through him, the Catholic Church throughout the world. Thank you so much for coming, Excellency.

I want to offer a word of welcome to the leaders of the ecumenical and interfaith community who are here today. If you don't mind a particular "shout out" as we say in liturgical language, to His Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas, whose presence here as a bishop of the Greek Church reminds me very vividly that we are connected with the churches that St. Paul himself established. The churches of Colossae, Corinth, Phillipi, you're all very, very welcome here, guests of our archdiocese.

If you'll indulge me one more particular mention. You have seen perhaps and recognized that Bishop Kalabat is here. And as we hear the account of the conversion of St. Paul in the city of Damascus, how can we not be united in prayer for the Christians of the Middle East, many of them in the very city of Damascus, Christians in Syria and throughout the Middle East, who are so much in need of our prayers. And Bishop, please be assured that we continue to be one with you in this pastoral care.

On several occasions, I have ardently offered congratulations to Bishop Fisher and Bishop Battersby, thanking them that they finally did answer the Nuncio's telephone calls. And I'm very grateful, and I promise you my fraternal support, and I offer congratulations to your family and so many of your friends who are here today. I think about how they're accompanying you to your priestly ordination and now in the years that have followed from that, how they have given you gifts that brought you to this day. And I'm sure they rejoice, we all rejoice, with you.

Finally, congratulations to the priests of the archdiocese. I think we should be very proud of these two men, who are our brothers, and whom the Holy Father has chosen for the episcopal office. I'm sure I speak on behalf of all the brothers, to say that you will have our prayers and support in the years to come.

You have heard, a number of you have heard me say, that when I think about preaching at the sacred liturgy, I have as my goal to help us better comprehend, to meditate, to think about, what it is that Jesus Christ is about to do: the work, the ergon, that he is about to fulfill in our midst through the sacred liturgy. So, I would like to consider for a bit, what is about to happen, what the Holy Spirit does through this sacred rite of the imposition of hands and the consecratory prayer, this sacrament that comes to us from the apostles. To underscore what will occur and to consider what Jesus tells us about it through the sacred scripture. So, what's about to happen? I can think of no better place to look than the chapter of Lumen Gentium, the constitution on the Church, which talks about the episcopal office. There we read:

"The Lord Jesus Christ, after praying to the Father, called to Himself those whom he desired and appointed twelve to be with Him, whom he would send to preach the Kingdom of God… That divine mission, entrusted by Christ to the apostles, will last until the end of the world, since the Gospel they are to teach is for all time the source of all life for the Church.

"For this reason, the apostles appointed as rulers in this society, the Church, took care to appoint successors. For the apostles not only had helpers in their ministry, but also in order that the mission assigned to them might continue after their death, they passed on to their immediate cooperators, as it were, in the form of a testament, the duty of confirming and finishing the work begun by themselves. For this work, they appointed men and gave them the order that when they should have died, other approved men would take up their ministry."

That's what's going on.

The Gospel needs to be preached until the end of time, because the gift of life in Jesus Christ is eternal. So by an unbroken chain, we come to this day and we bishops pass on this apostolic office passed to us, to a new generation so that the Gospel can be preached and men and women can be saved.

The sacred scripture today is God giving us some very important insights into the identity of an apostolic man, a man entrusted as part of the college that succeeds to the apostolic college: Who he is and what he does. In some ways, what we heard in the Gospel, the Lord's great commission to the eleven, totally helps us comprehend what it means to be in this ministry of the apostles: "Go out into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature." Not just every person, but to the whole of creation, because in Christ Jesus, creation itself is made new. This is our work. To lead men and women to believe and be baptized so they will be saved. And we must understand baptism here, not as some kind of extrinsic addition but by baptism, those who receive the Good News are immersed into the saving passover of Jesus Christ, because only what dies with Christ will ever rise and live with Christ. This is our work.

And there will be signs for the apostolic man. As there was for Peter and Andrew and James. As there was for Timothy and Titus. In our own day, driving out demons, perhaps not an exorcism. But are there not so many demons in our culture today? Forces that seek to bind and oppress our community? By the preaching of the Gospel, these are driven out. There's a need to speak new languages, Jesus said to the eleven, the language of self-sacrifice, the language of service, the language, as Pope Francis speaks it, of going out to the peripheries, the language of caring for the least. It means being an apostle: picking up serpents and drinking deadly things without harm. Perhaps you won't do that literally, but it means being able to be invincible, not ever being conquered, to be powerful not in your own power, but in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The second reading, Paul. You can meditate again and again every day of your life in the episcopacy that you were ordained bishop on the feast of the conversion of St. Paul. Because what is our task, except to do what Paul did, to bear witness to Jesus Christ, to proclaim him, that he is the Son of God, he is the Christ, he is the Messiah, he is the Father's way to deliver the world back into his keeping. Paul's history continues now in your history. What began in Damascus and then took him down to Jerusalem into Asia Minor and then across into Europe, to Thessaloniki and ultimately Athens and Corinth, has now come to southeast Michigan. And it is in this ministry that the Holy Spirit consecrates you today.

What God does today in making you bishop, is done in every generation of the Church before. Sometimes it was making a man a bishop in a time of the Roman Empire, and so the bishop had to endure terrible persecution. Think of someone like Cyprian. Sometimes it was the office of the bishop to be exercised in a period of great social unrest like the invasion of the peoples from German lands into Europe. Sometimes it was to be a bishop during the challenges of The Enlightenment. But today, it is the time of the New Evangelization, not a time of an immigrant Church so much here in southeast Michigan, but a time in which in our Church, people are bored with Jesus Christ. And everybody thinks they already know the Good News and it's not really so good anymore. It is for this New Evangelization that the Holy Father has nominated you as bishops, to lead in this great effort to re-evangelize and reignite the spark of the Gospel, to help people understand that the Good News is the best news. The Holy Father says so often: "There isn't anything better than to know about Jesus, and there isn't anything better than to share that Good News with others."

And so the Holy Spirit will come upon you in power, through this very simple and plain and undramatic rite. The Holy Spirit doesn't need drama, but through this rite you will have the power to do the work of Jesus Christ, so that what Jesus said about Himself in the Synagogue in Nazareth, today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. We can say about you that the text from Isaiah that was read in Nazareth and read here is fulfilled in our hearing. The Spirit of the Lord God will be upon you because the Lord will have anointed you. He is sending you to bring Good News to the afflicted, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and release to prisoners.

You are today given a new anointing to announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God. To comfort all who mourn and to help all of us, we priests who have this task especially, to help us all do these things better, place on those who mourn a diadem instead of ashes, and this is one that caught my eye: To give people oil of gladness instead of mourning, a glorious mantle instead of a faint spirit. There's a lot of faint-spiritedness in our community. There's a lot of mourning. So often we find ourselves mourning for the way it used to be, in the 50s or in the 60s or the 30s or the 20s. The Good News isn't about the past. The Good News is about the future that God has in store for us. Certainly there will be challenges. But Christ is risen. And all the challenges have been met. And it is this Good News that is entrusted to you especially today through your ordination.

So, let's conclude by thinking about this day in particular. The conversion of St. Paul, reminding all of us, especially those of us who are priests and deacons and bishops, reminding us that before we evangelize we must be evangelized. We must take to our hearts the Good News that we share with others. Otherwise we're not much else than ecclesiastical civil servants, keeping the engine going. There's not future in that. The future lies in the New Evangelization, in making ardent joyful missionary disciples who seek to share Christ with others. This is your special grace today, to be ordained bishop in the conclusion, in the light of our Synod, so that you too can help us all be this band of joyful missionary disciples, an evangelizing local Church. So that this part of the world, metro Detroit, southeast Michigan will be in its fullest sense a province, a part of the Kingdom of Christ.

Praised be Jesus Christ.