Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for Second Sunday of Lent at Holy Spirit Parish, St Clair.
12 March 2017
Dear people of Holy Spirit Parish,
I want to start this homily by expressing my gratitude to you all for the way you have witnessed to your faith in changing and challenging times. It is not easy to remain a faithful Catholic amidst all the negative publicity. I pledge to walk with you through this valley of darkness to the new dawn of hope where the Church will be purified and grow into the full measure of Christ.
In many ways, the Church is in unprecedented, uncharted territory. We are being reduced in number and impact, some would say an irrelevant minority; we are being exiled by the secular culture in which we live. We no longer enjoy the respect we once had. The sexual abuse crisis has made sure of that. Everywhere we look, there seems to be insurmountable problems. Like St Paul says to the Corinthians: “We are troubled on every side.”
I want to start this homily by expressing my gratitude to you all for the way you have witnessed to your faith in changing and challenging times.
We feel like God’s covenanted people on their way to the promise land. They wanted to go back to Egypt when the journey became too hard. Yet the spirit of God called them forth and enabled them to march forward. This same spirit is with us today and he also encourages us to walk the unknown pathways ahead, with courage, with perseverance and with trust in the God of history.
Scriptures today give us a poignant lesson in overcoming our fears and in living our lives with courage, vision and hope. In the first reading from Genesis, Abraham was called to leave the familiar and the comfortable behind and venture into the unknown. Abraham’s journey was a giant leap of faith, a leap into the unfamiliar, the untrodden, the unknown. He abandoned every form of human security and placed his trust solely in God. Abraham became the icon of Judeo-Christian faith and hope because he dared to hope; he dared to fight for the future he envisioned against all evidence to the contrary.
I feel a personal connection with the story of Abraham. When I left Vietnam on a rickety boat, not unlike the present day asylum seekers, it was a leap of faith. I had no idea where I would end up or how my life would unfold. It was a journey into the unknown. Ever since that day, I have been constantly challenged to go beyond my place of security. This is why I have chosen my episcopal motto to be “go further into deeper waters”.
I feel a personal connection with the story of Abraham.
The Gospel today tells us the story of the transfiguration. It took place at a critical moment in the journey of Jesus and his disciples to Jerusalem. Jesus had just predicted his own betrayal, arrest and crucifixion. This had upset them and shocked them to the core. Aware of their fears, Jesus took Peter, James and John to go with him to the mountaintop. There he was transfigured and God opened their eyes to see that Jesus is the Messiah “This is my beloved son, listen to him”. The transfiguration gave the disciples new courage in order to walk the difficult journey ahead, the journey that would ultimately prove to be the ultimate test of Christian discipleship.
Our faith today is also being put to the test as that of Abraham and the disciples. Like them, we are challenged to overcome our fears and doubts. We are challenged to embrace the unknown pathways that God has mapped out for us, just as he did for Abraham and the disciples. It is in our human nature to cling to what we know, especially when the alternative is uncertain. They say better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. Yet our call is the call not to remain anchored in calm shallow waters. It is a call to launch into the deep, with everything that it entails.
Our faith today is also being put to the test as that of Abraham and the disciples.
Pope Francis has made the call to go out the dominant theme of his pontificate. He constantly reminds us of the challenge not to be content with the status quo, not to cling to our security. We are told to abandon our culture of comfort and go to the periphery. We must be less of an enclosure for the virtuous but more an oasis for the weary and downtrodden. We must be less of an experience of exclusion and more of an encounter of radical love, inclusiveness and solidarity. Living the faith has something to do with the movement from security to boldness, from inward looking to outward looking, from preoccupation with our status quo and comfort zone to communicating God’s compassion to those who are on the edges of society and church.
Lent is a time to live with more intensity the call of prayer, self-denial and charity. These are the means to purify ourselves and to move away from the self-centred tendency. Let us pray that we may respond generously and trustingly to the invitation to overcome our fears and doubts, and to follow the humble footsteps of Christ with hope and perseverance.