Homily of Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron at St. Charles Lwanga

From The Most Reverend Allen H. Vigneron, Archbishop | Issued January 21, 2018

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever. Amen.

I’m very grateful that Father Parker has invited me to come and lead you in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist today. I have very much enjoyed becoming, I hope, a good brother to Father from his time on the Council of Consultors, an opportunity to- for years - have his good advice about the pastoral life of our diocese. I’m happy to be here to be especially mindful of those of you who might be here who have become part of this community from St. Leo, those of you who were part of St. Cecilia, now making up St. Charles Parish. As I come here, I think of two people in particular. I think of Father Finnegan, of course, whom I admired very, very much and I think of Father Ellis. Anybody here remember Father Ray Ellis? Me, too. I was telling Father Parker how much I admired Father Ellis, especially for his deep faith and spiritual life.

I’d like to offer a kind of general reflection, mostly on today’s Gospel; what I hear the Lord saying, but also, then, too, if you would permit me, to offer you, as one of the vital communities of our diocese, something of a way to apply the Gospel mystery to this community.

We hear in St. Mark’s account today how Jesus goes about his mission after he was baptized. His baptism, and especially the descent of the Holy Spirit upon him after he came out of the water, was a kind of renewed consecration. For a time in the life of the Church, some people said, “Well that’s when he became the Son of God.” We know that’s not so. He was – from the beginning of his existence – God’s only begotten son. When he was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary he was already true God and true man. But in his baptism, in a new way, the Father poured out upon him the spirit that belonged to him – by nature – filled his very heart and mind with that missionary spirit and the Father proclaimed Jesus as his only begotten son with a mission among us. That’s why the Father said so that others could hear it, “Pay attention. This is my beloved son. Listen to him.”

We hear Jesus, in the first chapter, the first stage of his mission, in the Gospel today; he makes two points condensed there very tightly, but essential points. What he did until the day he came to Jerusalem in order to make an offering of himself and then be raised form the dead. Two points.

Leave aside what is contrary to my Father’s plan for you. Repent. Put aside what isn’t going to make you happy, what isn’t part of the way God wants you to flourish, what isn’t the path toward Heaven and toward our Father. Repent. Of course, that’s why we have the reading from Jonah today. But not like Jonah, beyond Jonah, there’s part two in what our Lord does in his ministry. He says, “Believe in the good news.” It isn’t simply what he calls his listeners, and calls us, to put aside. It’s about where he calls us to. To the good news that God has visited his people and God reconciles us and God gives us the spirit and God makes it possible for us to live as his sons and daughters. God gives us eternal life in Jesus Christ and we’re not going to die forever. We’re going to rise from our graves and we have eternal life even now. That’s the good news. Jesus does that. He preaches. He proclaims. But then, you see, in the next part of the Scripture text appointed from the Gospel today, he gets co-workers. He sees Peter and Andrew, James and John, and he chooses them to be associated with him because this mission, this ministry, is not for Jesus Christ alone, but is has to continue until the end of time. So he chooses, at least today, four of the twelve who will share in his mission and ministry. As the Father sent Jesus, Jesus sends them.

I would particularly point out to you, what the commentators say is remarkable about why Jesus is choosing them. What might we see about these two sets of brothers that make them right for the mission Jesus shares with them? First of all, they’re brothers. Two pairs of brothers. By that we see that there’s something in the very fabric of who they are and the way they get along – they didn’t kill one another so they probably got along pretty well most of the time, but you know how it is with brothers. He could depend on that brotherly support – each to the other – as they would take up and live their share in the ministry of Jesus until the end of their days.

Secondly, notice that he chooses fishermen. Maybe there’s something special about what they know how to do and the way they know how to do it that gives them the sorts of skills they need in order to preach the kingdom of God, in order to do the work of Jesus. Fishermen. They know how to be patient. They know to look. They know to be smart. They know how to think about being astute as they seek to bring others, now, not fish but men and women into the kingdom. Some of the commentators even point out that they were small businessmen. They had their own operation and so they had a sense of being entrepreneurs, a sense of going out and figuring out how to make things work. That, certainly, is a very valuable skill in an apostle; to be creative, to have a sense of looking for opportunities in order to grow the operation. But here, of course, the operation is the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Now, usually, most often, when we think about how what’s going on in the Gospel lives and shapes the life of the Church today, we think about priests, nuns, brothers and religious, and that is very much the case. We priests are called, like Andrew and Peter, for God’s reasons, to be fishers of men. But that’s not the only people who are called to be fishers of men. One of the things that became very clear in the Synod we celebrated a little more than a year ago, is that every one of us is called to be a fisher. Every one of us is called to cast that net out and to help bring others into the kingdom of God.

In the letter I wrote as a way to try and give voice, expression, to what God told us in the Synod, I call this “no bystanders” and I believe, as I was praying about it and thinking of my preaching today, what I became convinced of is that what God would like me to say to you today is that the community of St. Charles Parish has to be fishing for men and women to become part of the kingdom of God. I come here today, certainly because Father Ted invited me, and I’m happy to be with you, but I think God brought me here to say this to St. Charles Lwanga Parish: That God wants you to be fishers of men. Now, that means you have to think about what are the special gifts and talents and abilities that you bring to this great work of helping other people come to Jesus and be his disciples and be part of our community, the Church. You have gifts and charisms – special qualities – just as Andrew and Peter had qualities as brothers and partners in this fishing business. What are yours? Maybe that’s something for the Parish Council to think about. What are the gifts that you bring, especially to this work of the New Evangelization?

If you would permit me, I would like to suggest, or say to you, one that I think you have. It is that you have successfully and ardently united in your hearts, and in this community, a blending of gifts. The gifts of being multicultural, not just being one flavor, we might say, but being a community of communities. That’s a gift that you have that’s not only for St. Charles Parish, but it’s a gift for us all, it’s a gift for the Archdiocese, and it’s a gift for our community in Detroit.

I would suggest another grace that God has poured out on all of you and that’s the capacity, the gift, the grace, of uniting in your hearts Catholic identity, being Catholic, and being African American. There are lots of people who think that those are contradictions in terms; that the Catholic Church is only for people who come from European backgrounds, people who live north of Eight Mile. Whatever. Not so. Your community is a vibrant witness that people of African American heritage and background and ethnic identity have a proper place to play. Not just that you have a place here, but you have a vital place, a vivid place, something to give this archdiocese that without you we would be the poorer. I hope, please, that you would think about that and think about how you can make your contribution to evangelization.

This is a particularly important time and place here in Detroit and in southeast Michigan for us to be about the work of evangelization. We live with lots of blight. Now, some of it we think of as real estate blight. Well, we see that, yes. But more important is the blight of the human heart which lives in our communities, but lives not only in this community, but lives in Birmingham and Monroe and other parts of our community. So, we have neighbors who need to hear the good news. The good news that it’s possible to turn aside from ways of life that don’t bring happiness and ways of life that are contrary to God’s plan for us and it is possible to walk the path of the good news, poor or rich, to be able to live the life of Jesus Christ and to be able to be God’s sons and daughters.

St. Paul says in the Epistle that time is running out. Now, I don’t know if Jesus is going to come back tomorrow. I would like that, honestly. But, what Paul means is that there’s no time like the present. We can’t delay. We must do today what we’re given to do today. And tomorrow God will give us strength and power and grace to do what he wants done then. But we must be about this work of sharing the good news and sharing Jesus because our neighbors need Jesus. They need the Eucharist. They need the Sacraments. They need grace. They need the Holy Spirit. Like it was for Andrew and Peter and John and James, it’s our job now and wherever we find ourselves to share Christ and his good news that we’re made for life and we’re made to flourish and we’re made to be rising from the dead.

As I bring this reflection and this call to you to conclusion, I’m aware that it’s right for me to apologize. You remember that some months before we had the Synod, at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, I and many of the other priests, offered an apology for all the things that the Catholic Church in our diocese did not do or did wrong. The ways we blocked up the good news and got in God’s way. One of those ways, we all know, is the kind of racism that has existed and continues to exist in our Catholic community. I feel deeply sorry for that and I apologize to this community and I make it an apology here in your midst. I do this, not for the sake of drama, but for the sake of reconciliation. To reaffirm that we all need one another. I need you. You need me. All of our parishes, we need each other. So, we move ahead, each making her or his proper gift; the gift of the human graces and talents, the gift of spiritual insight, prayerfulness, hope, and love that we can share with one another.

Now, we move to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Eucharist. Here, Sunday after Sunday, we’re given the greatest of possible gifts. What people has ever been like us, with God so close to us? Not only in our midst in the Blessed Sacrament, but ready – eager – to be our food, to let us eat him and drink his blood so that we will not die, but we will rise from the dead and be with him forever. That’s what’s in the heart of Jesus. He wants us always to be with him. He wants that joy that knowing that we will never be apart from him. In receiving him we give the Father thanks and praise. No matter what our trials or our difficulties are. I will say to you, “Lift up your hearts” and you say, “We lift them up to the Lord.” And I say, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.” And you say, “It’s right”. That’s what we should do! Then I say what I think is the most startling thing in the world: “Father, it’s right that we should give you thanks always and everywhere.” Everywhere? In the hospital? When the doctor says, “There doesn’t seem to be much hope”? When someone comes and says there’s been an accident and I have bad news for you? Yes. Always and everywhere. Because God is always good and no matter what the tragedies or difficulties are in our lives, by the power of Jesus Christ these wounds are turned into glory because in them we love God.

In response to his generosity we give ourselves back to Jesus. Particularly as we seek to unleash the Gospel, one of the ways Jesus wants us to give ourselves is to the mission to bring people to him. To tell people how knowing him is the most important thing that’s ever happened in our lives and sharing him is the best thing we can do for our family members, those we love, and our neighbors. Please pardon me for whatever are my faults and my weaknesses, but please, hear Jesus and join me in helping to proclaim the good news that Jesus Christ is our Lord and that all of those who accept his Lordship will reign forever.

St. Charles Lwanga, pray for us.