The following is a transcript of Archbishop Allen Vigneron’s homily at Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Aloysius Church in Detroit, February 10, 2016.
There are a lot of wonderful blessings that come to us because of digital media. And perhaps one of the very most important are these memes that people use. They’re certainly something that I like. Gives people a great scope for their creativity. So if I were going to do a meme for today, if you had a photo of me distributing ashes, instead of a kind of a line, “Repent and believe in the Gospel” – which is what I’m going to say – I’m going to say “Repent and ‘Unleash the Gospel.’” Let me explain that, why.
Now, what, it’s been seven Lents that I’ve stood here at St. Aloysius preaching on Ash Wednesday. And each time I try to discern what’s particular about Lent. Some of you are even maybe a little older than me, and so that means over sixty, sixty-five of these Lents. It’s always the same readings, the same ritual. And yet, Lent, year by year, is different — because we’re different and the world is different. I think that’s one of the meanings of St. Paul’s lesson today when he says now is the acceptable time, now is the day for salvation. Each year, this year, Lent of 2016, is a new now. There is something new for us to do this Lent. And I would like to suggest, as I look at the Archdiocese of Detroit, as I look at our parishes, at our communities, as I look at our nation, our world — the “now” that Lent requires is the unleashing of the Gospel. Some of you know this is kind of a brand line we’re using to talk about the efforts of the new evangelization. All of our focus on helping people encounter Christ, to grow as disciples, and to witness to the Lord – it’s all about unleashing the Gospel. Many of you who are my coworkers in the Central Services, you have been engaged in helping us to have our “Come, Encounter Christ!” missions, our “Year of Prayer” that lead up to this time. Many of you have gone through the Door of Mercy out at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in response to our Holy Father’s invitation. And the whole diocese is getting ready for a Synod at the end of November. We’re going to soon have parish sessions. It’s all about unleashing the Gospel. And Lent, this year, Lent, I would like to invite you to make it a time for you to work on your repentance, to take up the journey of repentance, so that you, in believing in the Gospel, will unleash it not only in your life, but in your world: The world of your home, the world of your workplace, the world of your neighborhood. Wherever you are. To repent. To grow closer to Christ, in order to take up your mission as making Christ better known.
In this regard, I’d like to think of something that Pope Francis repeats so very often. When we belong to Jesus, when we’re his disciples, having him is the best thing that ever happened in our lives, and sharing him with others is the best thing we can do. So this Lent, it’ll be the same. There will be acts of self-denial; good works, acts of works of mercy, especially, we remember, this year in the Jubilee of Mercy called by our Holy Father, the pope; increased prayer, maybe going more to the stations, more Scripture reading — the same stuff. But I invite you to listen to the Holy Spirit as your Lent begins, and think about this: How does Jesus want you, how does he want me, how does he want us to own him more completely? To purge out everything that’s an obstacle to our marriage with Christ, so that not only do you believe in the Gospel, but you will be instruments of sharing the Good News with others?
I would particularly like to invite you as your pastor to think about your prayer. What resolutions have you made about your Lenten prayer, your way of praying? And particularly to think again, when you have a moment of quiet later, to what Jesus said in the Gospel about your praying. Remember, he said, go into your room. That doesn’t mean we all shouldn’t be here together. But what it does mean is that each of us is invited to bring Christ into what is most intimate in my heart, in your heart. What’s really there? Has it been the case that over time we have become habituated to present a kind of a false front to God? To try and let God only see what we want the neighbors to notice and what we would never want them to really look at? What’s really there? What am I really afraid of? What do I really care about? What’s really important? What is it that I’m angry with God for? Where have I been hurt? To show my true heart to God — that’s what I think Jesus invites us to as part of this repentance.
Repentance is about owning Jesus and letting ourselves be owned by him — our true self, our real self. So I would like to suggest that to you today. In this Lent, when I’m inviting the whole people of God in the Archdiocese to repent and not only believe in the Gospel, but to unleash it’s power, to begin in your room – in your private, quiet place. And see where Christ is inviting you to love him more, to trust him more, and to give yourself to him more generously and more confidently.
Lent is a kind of retraining. That analogy is made clear in the prayer I said at the beginning of Mass. Perhaps you noticed all of the military language. We’re on a campaign. We have weapons. We’re engaged in a conflict against evil. You can well imagine that in the culture of Rome when that prayer was written, almost 1500 years ago, that’s the way they’d like to think. But it’s true. We are engaged in a campaign. We have been enlisted in this great cause by Christ, not the cause of arms and violence, but the cause of sharing his Kingdom. What we do in Lent is a kind of training, getting ourselves back in shape. Strengthening our bonds with Christ. Improving who we are as his members. And so Lent is a kind of re-enlistment, isn’t it? As they say, we’re re-upping in the forces of the Gospel. And the great blessing is that we do it together. It’s not just my Lent, your individual Lent, it’s our Lent. Yes, it has to happen at the most personal level — but we do it together, we make this walk together. Because we share this mission. It’s not just the bishop or the priest or the deacon or the catechists. We’re all called to unleash the Gospel. And we do it principally because it pleases Jesus. Because Jesus wants everybody to know his good news — that he has mercy and compassion on us, in our misery, in our suffering, in our confusion, and in our ultimate fate of dying. And he wants to deliver us. He wants to stand with us. He wants to save, not just you and me, but everybody.
So then in this Lent, we repent of everything that’s going on in our lives that obscures this love of Jesus. We embrace him. And we do our part to unleash this good news. Unleash the Gospel .