Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Address to the National Council of Priests, Canberra, Australia, 11 September 2018
Address to the National Assembly of Diocesan Priests, Christchurch, New Zealand, 13 September 2018
“Being a priest in an unprecedented time of change”
PART 5: CONCLUSION
I am a former refugee and as such I have a deep and personal interest in the biblical period of the exile, both as a historical development and a metaphor. The exile did not happen out of a vacuum. It was preceded by the political and social disorder.
Indeed, Jewish society, which was meant to be an alternative social system to a pre-exodus Egypt had become oppressive and exploitative.
As pre-Exilic prophets, such as Amos, Micah and Isaiah pointed out, it was marked by systemic injustice, that is, injustice that was built into the very structures of society. With the emergence of a powerful kingship beginning with Saul, a domination system was re-established, ironically in the land of promise and freedom. Solomon became a new Pharaoh and Egypt was reborn in Israel.
The exile, painful as it was, turned out to be a time of renewal. It shone a spotlight on the systemic injustice that needed to be addressed. Through the prophets of the exile, the Israelites learned to live their faith anew – without familiar symbols like the temple, the temple-based priesthood, the festivals, the land et cetera. They learned to re-engage their faith tradition critically and imagine their new alien world differently. They taught us the art of prophetic imagination that can re-energise and enliven us with new possibilities.
It seems to me that the biblical metaphor of the exile is pertinent for us as we learn to acknowledge and tackle the systemic malaise in the Church. Like Israel before the exile, the Church has failed to be a place of promise and freedom. It has not lived out the radical vision of powerlessness of the Servant Lord. Its dysfunctional and destructive culture of clericalism has betrayed the Gospel.
As the Church enters a time of darkness, it must have the courage to embark upon the journey of conversion, which will lead to cleansing, renewal and revitalisation. The paschal rhythm summons us to a discipleship of humility, weakness and vulnerability, of dying and rising in Christ.
As the Church, we must die to the old ways of being Church, which is steeped in a culture of clerical power, dominance and privilege. We must abandon the old paradigm of a fortress Church, which is prone to exclusivity and elitism. We must learn to rise to Christlike way of humility, inclusivity, compassion and powerlessness.
We priests have a critical role in the cleansing, renewal and revitalisation of the Church. Like Moses who ascended on Mount Nebo and showed the people the Promise Land in a misty distance, we can act as forerunners and pioneers, even if we ourselves may not be able to see the reality of what is hoped for.
Like prophets of the exile, we can dream and enact the dream of the new temple where diverse life forms flourish. We can embody the vision of the Church made anew and the priesthood made anew from the ashes of the old clericalist model.
May the Holy Spirit accompany us as we move boldly and decisively in the direction of the Kingdom!
Most Rev Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv
Bishop of Parramatta
To read Part 4 of Bishop Vincent’s address, click here.
To read the full text of Bishop Vincent’s address, click here.