The following is a transcript of Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron’s homily given at the Pentecost Vigil, May 23, at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit:
Father in heaven,
renew Your wonders in our time,
as though by a new Pentecost and grant that Your holy Church in Detroit,
praying perseveringly and insistently with one mind,
together with Mary, the mother of Jesus,
and guided by Sts. Joseph and Anne,
may increase the reign of the Divine Savior,
the reign of truth and justice,
the reign of love and peace. Amen.
For over a year now, we have been praying this prayer. It is in grace, then, mystically if you will, that over the course of this year we, God’s family in the Church of Detroit, have lived out in an extended way the nine days that our lady and the Apostles and the other disciples — Mary the wife of Cleopus, Cleopus himself, those who were probably there — we have lived out the nine days of prayer in the upper room between the Ascension and Pentecost. We have been praying for a New Pentecost, which is to say we have been asking God to bring us to a New Evangelization. We have been asking God to lead us to re-propose Christ, to present Him anew to our society, to our communities, which, almost impossible to explain why, seem to have become bored with the Good News. They think it’s just ordinary news now. We are engaged in this new evangelization.
Here in the Archdiocese of Detroit, it means we must become young again as a Church. Yes, we’re proud that the Church has existed in this area for over 200 years. But now we must start afresh. We must have a new vigor. This is what we’re praying for. We ask God to change our hearts, and to changer our culture — to change, we might say, the DNA that makes up the Roman Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Detroit. Our prayer is that God will awaken the hearts of Catholics, 1.) to encounter Christ anew. To meet him freshly again. And once more to be wooed by Him, to fall in love with Him again. And 2.) to give ourselves completely into His hands again. To awaken the hearts of Catholics to grow daily as His disciples. To make discipleship — the following of Christ — the first, and all-encompassing aim in all that we do. Thirdly, to awaken the hearts of Catholics to witness to the power of His mercy, at home, at work, at school, wherever we are. So others may know how good God is and receive from God our Father the grace He extends to them.
We have all prayed that this year for a New Pentecost. But there is a special vocation given to us gathered here in the Cathedral this evening. We are, I think — as I look out at you, think of it this way — a kind of delegation, a representational group who speak and pray on behalf of the whole archdiocese. We represent the whole people of God in our local Church. We are, in some sense tonight, the heart and mind of the Catholic Church in Detroit, here to receive the graces that we have been begging for. And so, we, tonight, are mystically, sacramentally in the cenacle. We are one with Mary, the Twelve, and the other disciples, here to receive the answer to this yearlong prayer for a New Pentecost. And it is my blessing tonight, as your pastor, as the Archbishop, to say that God has heard this prayer. God answers this prayer. How could he not answer our prayer for a new Pentecost? Because this is the very fire of the Heart of Jesus Christ that there should be such. Tonight I confirm for you that this day is the start of our Archdiocesan-wide initiative to take up the New Evangelization. I confirm for you that, as a key moment in our initiative, I will invite us to come to a synod in the fall of 2016, an assembly of hundreds of clergy and laity, to discern what it is God wants to do in our midst and how He seeks to change our culture so that we become what Pope Francis says God wants us to be — a band of joyful missionary disciples. Too often — understandably and yet too often — we think that what we are about as the Church is maintaining what God has already accomplished. St. John Paul II says that we need to launch out into the deep at the beginning of this new millennium. And make sure that this millennium belongs to God. We need to make sure that our homes and our place and our community are shaped by the Good News in this century and in centuries to come until Jesus returns. We have to start over. Start fresh with new energy and courage. And I, tonight, affirm for you that God has answered our prayer and He gives us this new energy and this new courage.
See, synods in the life of the Church are powerful means of grace, and our synod will be that. We had an experience of a synod in 1969, which was an occasion for the Archdiocese — the Christian community — to take a first possession of the Second Vatican Council and its energies and teaching. As a result of that we became very much the people of God, as the council said we are, with all sorts of forms of involvement and consultation. That is Stage One. Now, tonight, we begin Stage Two. We know why God has called us all to be engaged, so that we can be on mission — not for the sake of the Church herself, but for the sake of those who do not yet know Christ or who perhaps have heard Christ but walked away and can hear Him anew through our new energy. Our synod in the fall of 2016 will have a time, these months, of preparation. Preparation for the whole community in southeast Michigan. First of all, preparation about hearing the Gospel fresh. Not so much about content — though content’s important — but once again to take personal possession of our covenant with Jesus Christ. It’s a little bit like going through Retrouvaille between myself and Jesus, a Marriage Encounter with Christ. And on the basis of that, for the members of the synod to begin to prepare for examining, discerning, doing what we ought to do in order to be young again, in order for all of us to be on mission.
I am claiming that our prayers are being answered. I saw it today here in the Cathedral. At 10 O’clock, I ordained five new priests. The Holy Spirit acted. He came down on them and He made them agents for the New Evangelization. He consecrated them. He anointed them for this work. And not only they, but all of us receive God’s gift for this work of evangelization. I don’t know what God will ask each one of you to do. But there is no one in this Cathedral tonight who will simply be an observer, a bystander, in the audience so to speak, for the New Evangelization. We are all of us called to contribute. How else could we behave, once we know Christ and His Love and the power of His Mercy? What the sacred Scripture tells us tonight is what we might call the soul of what we are called to do — what God will bring us to do. The Gospel reading tells us why we are empowered to be evangelists. Because there is, welling up within us, the water of eternal life. John says it’s the Spirit. It isn’t only bishops and priests and deacons and sisters and monks and nuns who are evangelists, or catechists or DREs — it is the whole people of God who are baptized into the Holy Spirit and confirmed in the Spirit, able to bring the wellsprings of eternal life wherever we go, as the Scripture says, to turn the desert into fruitful ground, into an oasis. To make our cities an oasis, places where God is alive.
The letter to the Romans, Paul reminds us that this Spirit that we have, who enables us to be agents of evangelization, is the Spirit of adoption. We are empowered to share the Gospel because we are God’s sons and daughters in Jesus Christ. And in Christ we have the strength of Jesus, to do the work of Jesus. We heard in the text from Exodus tonight that the Spirit who moves us to proclaim the Good News is the new law. As once, on Sinai, there was a law written on stone, now, through baptism and confirmation, the Holy Spirit, the new law, the law of love, the law of sacrifice, the law of abandonment, the law of the Pascal mystery is written in our hearts. And it is with that abandoned love, that self-sacrificial love, that we engage in the mission of the Church.
We heard Ezekiel prophesied about dry bones. There are so many applications for that prophetic word. It certainly applies to our communities. Do they not often seem to be dry bones, lifeless bones? And the prophet said that there comes a moment where it seems like everything is put back together. Everything’s in order, but there’s still no life. That’s what happens when all we do are put together programs and have goals and objectives. I’m not opposed to goals and objectives. But goals and objectives need the Spirit. But the prophet says that the Spirit will be given. And so we are confident that our efforts, our working for objectives, our putting things in order, will be a means of life — because we invoke the Spirit to come and make us alive. Our parishes, our homes, our communities and, above all, ourselves.
Joel says — and he was quoted in this very reading on Pentecost Day by Saint Peter in his first preaching — Joel says that the young and the old will be engaged in speaking God’s word. We might make that our recruitment message for the New Evangelization. Young and old, men and women — everybody has a word to say to share the Good News, because everyone in the Church is anointed with the Spirit and called in Communion with our Holy Father the Pope and all the bishops of the world to speak the Good News of salvation.
Then, we heard in the book of Genesis the account of the Tower of Babel. That tragic fall of the human race which was undone on Pentecost. This mixing of languages. This incoherence. It was undone when the Holy Spirit came upon Our Lady and the Twelve, and they preached in a way that everyone of different languages heard one speech about Jesus Christ. And so the New Evangelization is a work of teaching one language. Speaking Jesus so that people can hear Jesus and understand Jesus — the language of Jesus, the language of glorifying the Father and serving one another in humility. This is our work.
I was thinking about a way to pull together all the points I’ve wanted to make with you. And what occurred to me was the great figure of St. Philip Neri. St. Philip lived in the Renaissance, grew up in Florence, went to live in Rome at a time when Rome was not particularly edifying place. The Reformation, the Catholic Reformation, had not yet occurred. And on the vigil of Pentecost, when Philip was a young man, he held vigil. He spent the whole night prostrate in prayer in one of the catacombs, asking for the Holy Spirit to come down for him. And in the middle of the night he received a great gift from the Holy Spirit. It was as if a great ball of fire came down from the heavens, came in front of him, and then entered his mouth, and proceeded into his very bosom, into his heart. So much so that for the rest of his life St. Philip had moments of his prayer, couldn’t even bear to wear a cloak or a sweater or a coat. And when the doctors examined St. Philip’s body at the end of the life, they found that his ribs over his heart were broken, and had healed in a kind of arc, because this fire of the Spirit, this love, had so physically taken possession of him that it became part of his very flesh.
That’s what we’re doing here tonight in the Cathedral. I don’t know if a ball of fire will come and be eaten, taken up by any one of us. Perhaps. But that fire is given to each of us, surely, through the most Blessed Sacrament. The Holy Spirit comes to each of us. The New Evangelization requires that from each of us — that we become new and alive and burning again in the fire of the love of Jesus Christ.
So then, watch and pray. Watch for what happens in the next months. You will increasingly hear about the New Evangelization initiative, the synod. And I ask you please to be involved. You’ve come here. You’ve accepted my invitation to be at the Cathedral tonight, precisely because you understand how important this is. There will be something for each of you to do. Watch and pray. Pray that the Holy Spirit from this day forward will continue to impel us, to pull us, to push us, to do what God wants, to renew the face of the earth. And tonight, for the time that remains in our vigil together, watch and pray. Be on watch because the Holy Spirit, I promise you, will act. I saw it today when He descended on those five deacons that He made priests. And He will descend tonight on your gifts of bread and wine, and he we recreate them — renew that part of the face of the earth. He will transform these dead things, these human things, these created things, into divine things. The Holy Spirit will come down on the bread and wine, and He will make it Salvation. He will make it the loving heart of Jesus Christ, the sacrifice of Christ, the risen flesh of Jesus Christ, the source of life for all of us. And in our midst tonight in the Cathedral, at this altar, He will make an inviolable pledge, a reliable promise that He is at work in our midst, to begin again the work of evangelization in this Church. And he makes a promise about where he will take us. He will take us to the banquet in Heaven, of which this meal is simply a foreshadowing.
Praise be Jesus Christ.