Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily from Commissioning Mass for World Youth Day Pilgrims, St Patrick’s Cathedral
03 July 2016
It is a great joy for me to celebrate this Commissioning Mass for World Youth Day pilgrims. Your presence, commitment and enthusiasm are a sign of hope for the future of our young diocese. I don’t expect we will rival or put Hillsong out of business anytime soon. But the church is much richer, much more alive and dynamic with your involvement. Pope Francis says that he wants young people to make a mess, to shake adults out of their set ways and even to challenge the status quo, especially when that status quo is less than what God wants for us as individuals and as a community. I am happy to know that our Diocese is not dull and lethargic. Your restless longing and reaching for a better future, a better world and a better church are the stuff of the Holy Spirit. I hope that you will come back from your WYD experience with renewed energy, passion and conviction to shake things up even more.
The church needs a bit of shaking up so that it may more alert and responsive to the presence, the voice and the movement of the Spirit in history and in the lived realities of human experience. Otherwise, it will fail to be a living church for people, especially those who struggle for acceptance, recognition, equality and a place at the table. Thus for example, it may be politically expedient to trumpet a strong border protection and a strong economy for middle Australia at the expense of the homeless, the marginalised and the asylum seekers. But as a church, we are guided by a much more radical vision of inclusivity, fullness of life, love and human flourishing. The church needs to hold itself up to the person, the message and the example of Christ. We need to be challenged and shaken up in order that we may be faithful, authentic, committed to our mission of being the sacrament of God’s love and the visible face of Christ in the world.
Scriptures this Sunday remind us of that mission. Isaiah foretells of the time when Jerusalem like a mother will gather and feed her scattered children. In historical context, God’s people were in foreign land weeping for lost honour and dignity. A restored Jerusalem would become a symbol of God’s care for and fidelity to them. The church today is in a time similar to the time of the biblical exile. God’s children are similarly scattered, distraught and disillusioned in an increasingly foreign landscape. How can the church become a restored Jerusalem that her children can find a home and be fed? How can the church be like a mother who suckles them from her consoling breast? How can we be a place of refuge, a safe haven, a home that we all feel belonged, nurtured and encouraged?
I don’t have all the answers. For starters, I am not biologically qualified to suckle. But I suspect if we are to have a future going forward with our critical young constituency, we the committed need to work together to bring about that tender mothering church that Isaiah speaks about. We need to bring the scattered, distraught and disillusioned youth home and I don’t just mean bring them back to Mass on Sundays. I mean we the church have to be a home for them whether they are straight or gay, conservative or greenie, spiritually grounded or alienated, wounded or strong… We have to be a place of welcome, love, affirmation, mercy, acceptance and friendship. We have to be this kind of home especially for those who are questioning, struggling, drifting and failing.
In the Gospel, Jesus sends his disciples to preach the word. This mission, however, is to be authenticated by their very manner of life and the fundamental values they demonstrate. The disciples are to go in pairs, to face evil with lamb-like gentleness and to travel light. In other words, the strength of our mission is not in our individual heroics, successes and manifestations of power. Jesus consistently challenged his disciples to embrace a way of seeing, acting and relating which is contrary to the worldly model based on power and glory. The way that we do things are rather grounded in Gospel-inspired principles of mutuality, vulnerability and powerlessness. In other words, it is not about how big, successful, influential or how popular we are. That is the empire builders’ mentality. We, the kingdom builders are about enhancing the quality of our relationships, growing in the power of vulnerable trust and being companions on the journey with others. The WYD is not merely a Catholic show of force and a short-lived emotional hype. It is meant to be like the transfiguration experience. It is about a deepening of your relationship with Christ, which in turn spurs you on and commits you to the journey of discipleship and mission with others.
Dear young friends,
As your new bishop, I am tremendously encouraged by your youthful enthusiasm. We commission you to go to the WYD Poland and enrich yourselves with that unique experience. Deepen your faith, invigorate your hope and widen your love! Come back with a renewed sense of purpose and mission! The church needs you to be the ambassadors for Christ or in the words of the Gospel tonight, labourers of the harvest. By your manner of life, by the values you demonstrate and especially by the quality of your relationships, you can be the builders of the kingdom. You can help bring about the tender mothering church that embraces and encourages her children. May you be filled with joy, love and hope as you go forth living, witnessing and sharing the Good News of Christ.