“I’m 65 years old. Old people like to give advice.”
These are the words of Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron to the seniors of Everest Collegiate High School. The archbishop is taking a tour of the Detroit area Catholic high schools to impart to them a bit of his wisdom before they move onto their life beyond school.
He visited Everest Collegiate on March 25, 2014, saying Mass for the teachers and high school students, and then holding a special audience with the seniors scheduled to graduate on May 18 of this year.
“For me, this is the great privilege of being a priest,” he told the students. “My job is to be a bit of a coach to help you do your job more effectively, to participate more fully. God wants your help.”
During his homily, using the occasion of what he called the “Great Feast” of the Annunciation, he reminded the students that they have been created by God for a special purpose in life. But they must choose to achieve that purpose.
“Every human being is a center of choice. You are free. This is what it means to be a human — to be free, to make choices.”
“Our Lord invited Our Lady to her vocation, and she said yes. It was a watershed moment. She said yes, and everything has been different ever since. The world is made new. Her creator became her child. She became his protector. There was a union of two wills.”
Mary conformed her will to God’s, the Archbishop said, in the same way that Jesus conformed His will to the Father’s. He told the students that, by their presence at Mass, they and all Catholics join themselves with Jesus in sacrificial love to the Father.
“That is why you are here today to make an offering of yourself in the Eucharist.
“My responsibility is to take you at your word. I believe you freely want to make a gift of yourself to God with Jesus. I become the instrument by which your Yes is lifted up to the Father.
“I know it isn’t easy. It takes courage. It might be very difficult to say yes to God. You might think you have a better way. But God’s will is not without sacrifice. Love and sacrifice go together. Ask yourself, when is your sacrifice worthwhile?”
Senior Class Audience
After Mass, when he was with the seniors, he shared his own particular story of being called the priesthood.
“I also wanted to be a farmer, but that didn’t pan out,” he joked.
He said he had always been attracted, from the early age of 7, to the things of the Catholic faith like Mass and the Eucharist.
“I liked going to Mass,” he said. “It meant a lot to me. At each stage of my life, I continued to be attracted.”
He said he finally decided for the priesthood and entered the seminary when he was 20 years of age, but not without a period of struggle.
“1968 was a very confusing time for the church and the country,” he said, recalling the unrest during the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, and what he called the “crazy ideas” ideas going around then.
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to put up with all that confusion,” he said. “There was a temptation to cowardice, to take the easy way.”
But then he said he asked himself, “If Christ was willing to go through hard times, shouldn’t I be?”
“I stayed,” he said.
He gave some specific suggestions to the seniors about what to do to stay strong in their own faith after graduation.
“Your Catholic education has helped to shape and direct your talents so you have something offer.”
He urged the students to consider the question, “What did God make me for? How am I going to spend my life?”
“If you do what God made you for, you will be very happy,” he assured them.
“There are so many wonderful things to explore as you go off to higher education. Know its goodness and thank God for it.”
He told them not to let the world intimidate them. “Don’t feel you have to be defensive about bringing your faith to what you study. The Church has a rich history of intellectualism. Our faith has resources to deal with any question. There is truth. There is no conflict between [what we choose for] our profession and being a Christian.”
He also told them very sharply, “Go to Mass!”
“Stay with it, for your sake and for the church’s sake,” he said. “You have a lot to contribute. Don’t let your friend Jesus down.”
When asked if they had any questions for him, one young lady asked the Archbishop if he wanted them to bring any of his prayer intentions with them on their upcoming Senior Trip to the Holy Land during Holy Week.
“I ask that you pray for more vocations in the archdiocese,” he said. He specifically requested that they make their prayer while in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, putting their hands on the slab where the Lord’s body lay.
Also during the audience, some of the Everest students, who will perform in the upcoming Spring Musical, sang a special song for the Archbishop, “For Good” from the Broadway show Wicked.
Visibly moved, the Archbishop said he felt another sermon coming on.
Referencing the mention of the demands of friendship in the lyrics, he dovetailed his discussion of his priestly discernment struggle with what goes on in all relationships, coming to the crossroads of conflict and fighting.
“Then you either patch it up or give up,” he said, and move toward “making a commitment.”
Relationships are at the heart of what it means to be a human being, he said. “Friendship is unconditional because of the gift of Christ.”
The Archbishop mentioned how the song points out the possibility of separation in this life. He assured his audience that they “will see one another again” because of Christ. “Relationships have been preserved from the corrosion of time and death.”
Time with the teachers
After the students departed for class, the Archbishop took some time to meet with the high school teachers to encourage them and answer their questions.
He quoted Socrates, who said teachers are “midwives to the soul.”
He suggested they work to make their students “self starters” who can find the answers to the questions the world will present to them. “Give them places to go for answers.”
He told them to challenge their students not to be “tacit,” but to go forth with conviction and meet those people who reject the truth with patience and love.
When asked how they should help the students confront the inevitability of suffering, the Archbishop said, “Even in suffering, there is the joy of knowing God. There is joy that comes from the Gospel, and in suffering for the Gospel.”