The following homily was delivered by Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron at the Mass for Pardon at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit.
Audio of Archbishop's homilies are available on Soundcloud.
Before I even begin my regular preaching, I want to call to mind what I’m sure most of us are aware of: the jeopardy in which so many of our brothers and sisters are living because of the hurricane in Florida and up the coast, and we remember them in prayer tonight.
I want to offer a very heartfelt welcome to our mother church, to the cathedral. When we were planning this occasion, and the leadership committee for the New Evangelization - for the Unleash the Gospel initiative, we thought that maybe there would be three or four of us here tonight. But by God’s providence and the working of the holy spirit not so. And I can’t tell you how blessed I feel for myself, as your bishop, your pastor, that you have come here tonight to join me in prayer and I’m particularly grateful that Cardinal Maida is with us tonight. Thank you, your eminence, for being here.
For four years or so now, here in the cathedral, here in this pulpit, I as your principal pastor have marked out significant milestones on our journey toward becoming the band of joyful missionary disciples to which we have been summoned by Pope Francis. And that’s what tonight is about, but in a very particular way. On behalf of the whole local Church in the archdiocese in the six counties of southeast Michigan, coming to the cathedral in order to beg God in his mercy, to pardon us, to pardon his Church in Detroit, for the sins by which we have at least hindered if not on all too many occasions, betrayed the mission he has entrusted to us.
In all of the various efforts to Unleash the Gospel, I have had very particular responsibilities as the bishop. But tonight, as I look at it, I have to the essential degree the responsibility of acting as your priest. To stand on your behalf before God and to pray prayer of repentance, confessing sin, begging for mercy and asking for healing of the wounds that our sins have caused. But not only do I offer these prayers.
I want to tell you what’s in my heart, so that we can be one in prayer. So that my prayer can truly be our prayer. The prayer of the body of Christ as we that body live here in the metro Detroit area. And since my prayer is in response to God’s word, I will for these few minutes tell you what I have heard in God’s word, how his word has shaped my words of prayer so that God’s word can shape your words of prayer as well.
After his baptism and annointing with the Holy Spirit, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God. “The Kingdom of God is at hand,” Jesus said. “Repent and believe in the Good News.”
“Repent and believe in the Good News.”
This is an inseparable prayer, perhaps we might in this age of computers, call it a binary. Two that really make one - a unity. And in our sharing in the mission of Jesus Christ to be evangelizers, we can never lose sight of these two. Never make one without the other. Never call for belief in the Good News without calling for repentance. Just as we never call for repentance without an invitation to believe the Good News of our redemption.
And so, as part of Unleashing the Gospel, we don’t just need to say this, how they belong together. We need to do them together. That’s what tonight is about: Repenting. So that we can hear the Good News and share the Good News. To be a joyful band of evangelizers, we must first be evangelized. And to be evangelizers, we must repent.
Over the years of speaking to you about our initiative, about Unleashing the Gospel, I’ve used regularly the figure of speech of DNA. The very identifying fabric of a body, of a living reality. And I’ve characterized the New Evangelization initiative as radical, not a program, but a change in our culture, in the very DNA of the Archdiocese of Detroit. And tonight, we acknowledge that we have brought sin into this DNA. We have allowed ourselves, indeed, we have sometimes very actively embraced the way the world thinks. And we have made, by our habits of sin, sin as part of our culture. It doesn’t belong there, and we need God to heal it.
We aspire to Unleash the Gospel, but we humbly confess that we have changed the Gospel by our anti-Gospel acts over these many years. We’re part of the problem, and we need God to solve that problem.
It is for these acts of systematic, habituated, acculturated sin that we beg God’s pardon. Pardon for omissions and commissions. Pardon for what we have done and what we have failed to do. Pardon for what we named in the liturgy — in the litany in the beginning of Mass, and pardon for what we will name in the prayers of the faithful. Yes these are acts, many of them grave and grievous, but we should not forget those that are small in themselves but likewise bear bitter fruit.
“This saying is trustworthy,” Paul wrote, “and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” That’s it. Put that inside the fortune cookie. There it is. This is the Good News. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. We sinners do not have to rescue ourselves, which would be impossible. Who can undo the past? Yes we can apologize, yes we can make some recompense, but we cannot make it go away. Christ doesn’t make it go away. What he does is transform our sins into grace.
In his infinite compassion for us poor feeble creatures, God has given us his Son as our savior and so tonight we lay hold that this great gift, rightly we do this in the Year of Mercy, we place ourselves under the lordship of Jesus Christ. And we abandon our self will, which all too often has corrupted even our best aspirations.
Paul continued: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these, I am the foremost. But for that reason, I was mercifully treated, so that in me as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life.” That’s what tonight is about. Like St. Paul, this Church in Detroit through me as your pastor, this Church confesses that we have been enemies of the Gospel, and we repent.
In confidently approaching God for pardon, we at the same time powerfully proclaim the Good News that mercy is available to all. “See,” we say to our neighbors. “Look at those Catholics. They’re sinners, but God is merciful to them,” they say. God can be merciful to you. God is merciful to you. God is eager to show his mercy to all of us. Just as he has shown it to each of us. So let the world know. Let metro Detroit know of God’s patience, God’s compassion, that his name is mercy, and let them be courageous enough. If they see that we can do it, weak as we are, let them take heart and join us in believing this Good News.
In the first hours of his ministry, Mark records: “Jesus proclaimed ‘this is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand.’” Hearing that, is there not in Jesus’ words a great urgency? “It is the time of fulfillment.” It was for this, for the very hour after the fall of Adam and Eve, through Abraham and the exodus and the exile and the return, God’s plan working itself out and now has come with Jesus Christ the time of fulfillment. God is poised to act. He is ready as our own Mary Healy put it in her commentary: “Ready to overthrow the foreign occupation of sin, satan, disease and death.” The Kingdom of God is at hand, and we know that this urgency is no less today than it was 2,000 years ago. Every day, we read about it in the newspapers, we hear it on the radio, look at it in the Twitter feed. We don’t have to just do it through media. We know. We look at our neighbors, we look at ourselves, it is urgent to let the Kingdom of God into our lives.
Christ is poised to win back this corner, this territory, these six counties for his Father’s Kingdom, and it is part of that urgency that brings us here tonight. It is urgent that we be cut loose from the chains we ourselves have fashioned by our sin, and Unleash the Gospel. The world needs the Kingdom of God. The world doesn’t need me, Allen Vigneron. The world doesn’t need necessarily another committee. Committees are helpful and all of that, but the world needs Jesus, and what are we waiting for? The world is in need and we must repent of our sins so that we can share Christ with our neighbors.
The Kingdom of God.
One last set of words. These are a bit of a paraphrase from the Eucharistic prayer tonight. As we celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection and look forward to his second coming, we offer you Father who are ever faithful and merciful, the sacrificial victim who reconciles to you the human race.
I’ve been on the radio several times in the last few days, talking to newspaper people about this event tonight. And today I got a question I did not expect: “Archbishop, what do you most anticipate about the Mass for Pardon?”
I would tell you this: I most anticipate what will happen after your gifts of bread and wine are prepared and placed on the altar, and the Holy Spirit comes upon them and makes them the body and blood of Christ. I anticipate offering the holy sacrifice, because here by the power of the Holy Spirit, our true high priest is present. Present in his body given up, handed over for us. Present in his blood, poured out for the forgiveness of sins, the very sins that we have confessed and will confess again, present to offer our humble and weak prayers for mercy to offer them along with his own self, his very body and blood to the Father. And so I know, undoubtedly I know, that our sins are expiated, because we have this great high priest who is risen from the dead and pleads for us at the right hand of the Father. We have the assurance of having come to the throne of unfailing mercy.
So, what’s it all about, this hour? Probably an hour-and-a-half? It’s about asking for and receiving the healing grace of Jesus Christ, proclaiming that in his pardoning of our sins, he transforms wounds that would ordinarily be death-dealing, dealing death to relationships, death to communities, death to our aspirations, death that leads to the grave, transforming those wounds into sources of new life. That’s what pardon is in the Kingdom of God. It’s not about forgetting. It’s about transformation, so that in Christ, we say with St. Paul, and indeed, we invite the whole world to say with us, to the King of ages, incorruptible, invisible, the only God: “Honor and glory for ever and ever.” Amen.