Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron's homily proclaiming Christ's victory over the sin of racism

From The Most Reverend Allen H. Vigneron, Archbishop | Issued April 15, 2018

Perhaps in other circumstances other people aren’t greeting you this way, but im going to wish you a happy Easter and that’s okay in the Church, because in the mind of the Church if we had 40 days of repentance before Easter, we should have 50 days to celebrate Easter itself. 7 weeks of Easter in order to give proper glory to God for this great, great deliverance we have in Christ Jesus.

As I mentioned to you, I got this invitation, which I wheedled out of Monsignor to come and celebrate with you, and I’m happy to do it as part of our Easter joy, Easter celebration. In particular, it gives me an opportunity to once more in public, bear witness to the good news of Easter. To proclaim that God our Father, when He raised His son Jesus from the dead, has destroyed every power that would hold us bound in darkness, that would seek to unravel the true good of us, God’s sons and daughters. And most of all, we think about how Jesus’ rising is the promise that we will rise from the dead. The grave is not a final home for us, but just a place of rest until Christ comes back. And so, I get to, one more time, unleash the gospel as you’ve heard us all speak about that after the Synod. But I would, particularly, with you today, make one special application about the fruit of Christ’s resurrection. And it’s an application that is appropriate for our time, the early 21st century and our place here, as citizens in the United States. Here’s my point: that the Lord’s resurrection is likewise not only a victory over sin and death, but as part of that victory, it’s a triumph over every act, or attitude, or structure that would seek to propagate the lie that members of some race or other are inferior to those who belong to a different race or ethnic group.

 I’ve asked to come here to St. Fabian so that, as your bishop, I can make a public witness to the Lord’s resurrection as a victory over racism. Now I’m not here because I think St. Fabians has a special problem or that things are really bad in Farmington Hills. I’m here because I knew that I would have a welcome, and by making this preaching here I would be able in some way - and you see that we have some media recording - make my point and share it with the whole Archdiocese. And so I’m very glad, Monsignor, that you’ve let me come for this very important purpose.

So, why this topic? Well, we bishops have tried to understand what’s going on in our country and we do see that there seems to be, more and more, voices of hate which much to our disappointment continue to speak in our midst. And our interpretation is that what we see is a continuation of what goes all the way back to the fall of our first parents. What really is this except a continuation, in our day, of Cain’s antagonism and ultimate violence against Abel. And this is something that Jesus Christ seeks to heal and overcome. We bishops, in our deliberation, have determined that we want to redouble our efforts to lead the whole Catholic community in making ever more real and effective the victory of Jesus Christ over sins of racism. And I will share with you that I feel this obligation particularly as the bishop of these six counties in Southeast Michigan.

We all know history. We know that there have been times with really very, very grave violence motivated by racism. One in particular during the Second World War. Another in 1967. This is our history and we must ask the Lord Jesus to heal it. I’ll share with you a story that particularly touched me. There’s a man I work with in the chancery who helps me with ethnic ministries who told me when he was a boy he came home from school and told his mother that he wanted to be a priest and so she said “Well, you tell sister about that.” And he told sister. And sister said “I’m sorry that won’t work, you can’t be a priest. You’re colored, you’re a Negro.” And we know that this has happened in our community and it’s something that we all need to be healed from.

And so, that’s why I think it’s important for me to come here today and in your midst and through you, beyond this parish, to offer my witness. And this is not a political message, I’m not here to urge, as a response to racism, any one parties platform or program. That’s not what this is about, that’s not the place of the Church’s pastors. But I’m here to speak about the Lordship of Jesus Christ. And how, it is by serving Jesus and advancing his kingdom that we can be instruments for healing this evil.

This is intimately my appeal; my witness is tied most essentially to the proclamation of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. You heard in the scriptures today that truth, announced again and again. Peter said “The author of life you the leaders of the Jews put to death, but God raised Him the dead. Of this we are His witnesses.” And on Easter night itself, Jesus came and stood in the upper room and announced that He was risen and urged the disciples to believe in Him. This is not an idea; this is not a story that we tell one another. Something like a Greek mythology. This happened! Christ is risen and that’s why we’re in Church, that’s why we’re disciples, that’s why we have our hope. And we see in the Gospel, Jesus not only speaking the truth of His resurrection but showing it.

You know, the commentators often point out you don’t usually ask somebody to look at your feet in order to recognize who you are. But Jesus did that precisely to show that he who had been crucified, whose hands and feet had been nailed to the cross was now alive. He wasn’t a ghost, He wasn’t their idea. He is risen. And so much so did He need to show this to them that He ate some food. Ghosts don’t eat. Christ is risen.

And what is the fruit of the resurrection? The Lord said it when He came into the upper room: “Peace be with you.” We can live in peace, all of us. We can not be afraid of death, not be afraid of any evil or disaster because by rising from the dead, Jesus is conqueror, He is lord. And there is no power that can withstand the power of the resurrection of Christ. And what has happened is a new creation. A piece of our world, the humanity, the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ has now been transformed and made what God always wants the world and the human race to be: filled with life, an immortal, an invincible life.

The new time has begun. A time that will never end. A time that makes good the promise that had been made in Eden and lost by sin. And a fruit, a particular, personal fruit of the resurrection of Jesus Christ we see here in the scripture today is the possibility of repentance. That’s what Peter said when he preached. Repent, therefore, because Jesus is risen. Repent and be converted that your sins may be wiped away. And Jesus in the upper room said thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached in His name to all nations.

What does that mean? It means that we are offered this new beginning. That’s why we’re disciples; we have come to believe this. That in Christ’s resurrection from the dead, a new way, a better way, an eternal way of life is offered to us if we turn aside from our attraction to what is false promise and come to accept the gift of eternal life that is offered to us by God. And not only do we receive this peace but you hear in the Gospel that Jesus invites us to be agents of this peace, not just passive recipients but active ambassadors for this new way of life.

And I’ve come to remind all of us that in this time in our life in the United States, one of the particular ways we can be ambassadors for this peace is to help our country overcome racism. See, Jesus ends His announcement of the resurrection with a commission. He says the forgiveness of sins is to be preached in His name to all nations. And that we are to be His witnesses of these things. What things? That the whole world has been changed and made new. And things are on their way to being set right. This commission is for all of us. This is what our Synod in 2016 affirmed. That we’re all called, not just to hear and receive the Gospel, but to share this. That knowing Jesus risen from the dead is the best thing that’s ever happened to me and you and it’s what makes life worth living. That’s why we don’t engage in self destructive behavior.

And so we have to be this band of joyful missionary disciples because it’s Christ’s will. Christ wants everyone to be alive and never dies. And He wants every evil and sin to be healed. He thought it was worth Himself being crucified to bring that about. And we are His ambassadors. Now, healing the sin of racism is a particular responsibility for us, I think, because of the circumstances that by God’s providence make up the very fabric of our community with its wounds of racial strife. Our efforts as missionary disciples cannot not include working to advance repentance from the sins of racism so that we personally and as a community give witness to the transforming power of the risen Jesus.

We’re entrusted, this is a sacred trust which God has given to me and to the priests and the deacons and to all of you. We’re entrusted with this good news: that by rising from the dead Jesus destroyed the power of every evil spirit that seeks to hold in subjection what is authentically human. And so He delivers us from being allies that would maintain or spread racism. That by rising from the dead Jesus shows that God’s saving purpose is to protect and preserve all that He has created, every human being of whatever race or ethnicity. And so by rising Jesus teaches us that every authentically human culture is of inestimable worth. And by rising from the dead, Jesus offers us the grace to repent of our sins. And so He makes it possible for us to have a new beginning. We’re not stuck, we’re not the victims of any past history. We can start over because we have His strength, strength that is stronger even than death and the grave. And He leads us into a future that’s free from all sin including any sins of racism.

I want to say to you and through you to the whole archdiocese that as pastor of God’s church in Detroit, I’m firmly committed to leading our church in advancing the work of Jesus, of vanquishing the evil of racism and bringing to fulfilment our Lord’s dying wish that all will be one. And I ask you to join me in this great work of Jesus Christ.

You know, we’re all concerned when we see the decline in church attendance and a drop in the numbers of baptisms and confirmations and marriages. We want the church to flourish. One way to invite people to join us as a band of Christ’s disciples is to let them see that we are devoted to making our community better by doing our part by the power of Jesus Christ to overcome this sin of racism. What a glorious witness we give to our neighbors by going about this great work with peace, mutual love and respect, not with acrimony, but with generosity.

So, we’re about to celebrate the supper of the Lamb. Jesus will become present under the appearances of bread and wine. When the very spirit that raised Him out of the grave on Easter morning will come down on your gifts of bread and wine and make them the risen flesh and blood of Christ. This is the life of the new creation, eternal life, the same life you and I will live when we rise from the dead. Already, we have passed over to heaven; it just doesn’t look a lot like heaven, especially today with all this ice storm. I don’t think there will be any ice storms in heaven, as far as I’ve read.

But we already live in the new creation, we have been baptized, we died with Christ, and we’ve passed over into the kingdom of heaven. And this new life is an invincible strength for us to advance the kingdom of Christ, to conquer sin. And it is a promise, a foretaste. What you see here is very much what you will see in heaven. People of every race and age and background, all together at our Father’s table. Saying to our Father: “Father, thank You for Jesus. Thank You for not letting Him rot in that grave. Thank You for being faithful and raising Him to new life. Thank you for giving us new life, eternal life. Thank you for triumphing over every sin and wound of the human family, not least this wound of racism.”

Praise be Jesus Christ, now and forever.