The following is a transcript of the homily given by Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron on August 12, 2015, at a Mass celebrated at the conclusion of the international conference “Welcoming and Accompanying Our Brothers and Sisters with Same-Sex Attraction.”
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Praise be Jesus Christ, now and forever.
I thought that a good way to introduce my preaching would be to set it up in something of a contrast to all of the presentations you’ve heard. The first thing I’ve thought about saying was that we’ve had lots of presentations, and quite extensive, and perhaps even long, and I might promise you that I was going to preach briefly… but I thought better. I’m not going to promise something I’m not going to deliver.
But the real contrast I would make is that it seems to me from the program that so much of what has engaged our attention over these days has been about the substance, the content of the Church’s ministry to those who experience same-sex attraction. And tonight, at this Eucharist, I would like to talk about you. I think the word of God says something very important about your service, about what you do to accomplish a sort of ministry and pastoral care that has been the subject of these days.
I begin by underscoring how remarkable it is that in the Gospel, the evangelist gives us testimony about a move Jesus makes to bring the Church into partnership with him in his very mission in ministry. Jesus’ name means “Savior.” And the angel Gabriel told Our Lady, the angel in a dream told Joseph, that his name should be Jesus, because he would save his people from his sins. This is the very essence, the substance, the DNA of the God-man, Jesus of Nazareth — to address the wound of sin and to be its healer. And the evangelist today testifies that Jesus has authorized the community not simply to receive that gift, but to be an instrument by which that gift is shared. It belongs to the Church to correct sin and to lead people, accompany sinners on the path of conversion. With that established, I then go on to read the Old Testament reading from Deuteronomy as a type, a more focused type, of precisely how God works in what seems to be kind of a relay system. I discern from the Gospel a type in Deuteronomy. The entry into the Promised Land occurs in two phases. There’s the “big stuff” — to use the technical, theological, expogetical word — the big stuff that Moses gets done. He gets them out of Egypt. There is the Passover, the Exodus. And he brings them right up to the Jordon. But then comes the handoff. Joshua is called to consummate the pilgrimage from Egypt to the Promised Land.
There is Part Two. And, in that, I see a type for the way the Church is. That the Lord Jesus, as the antitype of Moses, has brought us through the tough part. He has accomplished the New Passover, the New Exodus. But then, by God’s providential plan in salvation history, we have been delegated to consummate that passage to the New Jerusalem. Above all this is true for those of us who are ordained as pastors in the Church, for us bishops and priests and deacons who work with us. But it’s likewise true to so many of you, who are our coworkers in the pastoral care of God’s people. We have all, to some degree, depending on our state of life, received the baton from the new Moses, Jesus Christ. And I think that helps us consider precisely the point of our gathering here, having spent this time in study and consideration and conversation. Because we know that God has a great and marvelous destiny for his people. God leads his people to a homeland that is nothing other than heaven itself, to the New Jerusalem, of which the land flowing with milk and honey was a mere shadow.
But that way, as it was for Israel, is challenging. There’s a lot of tough stuff between Egypt and Jerusalem, not least leaving behind the old creation, the old self, and becoming a new creation. And particularly, in these days, we have all considered how to help our brothers and sisters on their way to their consummate happiness in the New Jerusalem, the life of holiness that belongs to God’s daughters and sons. We have considered how to assist them to grow in chaste continence, indeed how to share in the very chastity of Jesus Christ. That’s the goal. That’s what we are about — because that’s the promised land — to live the life of Jesus Christ.
Like Moses, like Joshua — whose place we take — there are lots of troubles in offering this service to God’s children. Often, as they did long ago, they say, “You know it was a lot easier in Egypt. We liked it there. It was simpler. They had great garlic. Let’s go back.” And yet our love, the delegation we have from Jesus, is to speak in his name and say, “No. Don’t be afraid. You can go forward. It is possible to live like God’s daughters and sons after the example of Jesus himself.” To go back is not love. And to let people go back is not love. To have high aspirations for people — that’s love. To be willing to accompany them on the passage to paradise, to the New Jerusalem — that’s love. It’s a love that costs, certainly. It’s a love that challenges, not only the one we are accompanying, but it is a challenge to ourselves, not least a challenge of being misunderstood and being called a bigot. But it’s not being a bigot. It’s having a hope, a confidence in the power of grace in the lives of people beyond what perhaps even they themselves are aware of, and to nurture a dream of Jesus for his brothers and sisters, so that it won’t die, and they will go forward.
We then are evangelists. Some people think that maybe we’re just a bunch of Queen Victorias, who are… prissy and imagine that it all needs to be the way it’s always been. That’s not the point. We do not speak for the worth, the goodness of chaste continence because somehow we just want everything to be in the order it always has been. A bunch of bluestockings. No. This is good news. Good news that it is possible to live according to God’s plan. Good news that Christ has won for us the capacity to respond. Good news that we don’t have to compromise — not because we’re harsh or rigid, but because of who Jesus is. And if he didn’t make it possible to avoid compromise, he’s not the savior we need and we need to look for somebody else. But we don’t need to look for somebody else. He’s made the victory available to us. He is the last word and the full word, about happiness, the way, the truth, and the life. Happiness and the way forward to it. And the good news is we’re not afraid about stumbling. That’s not the point. Very likely as we accompany our brothers and sisters there will be stumbling. But stumbling is not a tragic failure when one is accompanying a brother or sister to the promised land. Stumbling becomes by the power of Christ a point for setting out anew with even greater confidence to lay hold of the victory that is inevitable.
I’ve offered this reflection about our service, our accompaniment, our call, our delegation by Jesus — to take his place and stand in for him and accompany our brothers and sisters for him — not simply for its own sake, but to prepare us for the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice. Having considered what we are about, I rejoice that I, my brother priests, we are the instrument to offer to God the Father, along with the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, your resolution, your commitment, your sacrifice. Whatever it is that costs you to be companions on the road, challenging as that is, I rejoice in being able to be the instrument through which this precious gift is raised on high. And I rejoice that through my ministry, this mission its fervor — we sang about it in the Alleluia, remember the line, we have set our souls on fire — I rejoice that in this Holy Eucharist, this fire is stoked in your hearts and in mine. This fire, which is fed by the fire in the heart of Jesus, made our own as we receive the Holy Eucharist.
People think we’re old fashioned. We’re not. We’re subversive. We’re undermining an established order. Not for its own sake. Not just to be recalcitrant. But because of what God has asked us to do. We do it in love, we do it with patience, we do it in the power of the Holy Spirit. I praise and thank God that the Holy Spirit is abroad in our time and in our place.
Praise be Jesus Christ, now and forever.
On ZENIT’s Web page:
An interview with Janet Smith, one of the organizers of the conference: http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/august-conference-to-give-tips-for-ministering-to-those-with-same-sex-attraction