Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for Mass for the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year A in commemoration of the anniversary of death of Pere Receveur at La Perouse.
19 February 2017
It is a great joy for me to be here with you on these beautiful grounds at La Perouse where in all likelihood Catholic Mass was first celebrated in Australia. In celebrating this commemorative Mass in honour of Pere Receveur and his travelling companions, we acknowledge the pioneering spirit of this priest scientist who gave himself to the service of not only of his country but also of humanity. In embarking on a long and assiduous journey that brought him to many unknown destinations, Pere Receveur was a true pilgrim: always open to new learnings, attentive to hidden meanings and ready to be challenged by new horizons. He followed in the footsteps of our pioneers in faith like Abraham and Sarah whose lives are a source of inspiration for us.
The Word of God that we have just listened to also speaks of the call to go beyond one’s known world, not just in terms of geography like Pere Louis Receveur and his companions, but more so in terms of ethical standards. It challenges us to move beyond the ethics of the old Mosaic law to that of the beatitudes. In fact, we are presented with a radical new way of seeing, acting and relating.
It is a great joy for me to be here with you on these beautiful grounds at La Perouse where in all likelihood Catholic Mass was first celebrated in Australia.
In the first reading, Moses instructs the people as they journey towards the Promise Land. After the enemies had been routed, they enjoyed a period of peace, stability and prosperity. There was a real temptation, however, to focus on their immediate concerns and forget what they were meant to be: the people of God in mission. Moses reminds them of the covenant and the mission of living out and witnessing to the call to holiness. “Be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. You must not bear hatred for your brother/sister in your heart. You must love your neighbour as yourself”. The people were meant to manifest the holiness of God in their relationships and behaviour.
In the Gospel, Jesus takes that holiness to a new and radical level. In the preceding episode last Sunday, we read how he rejects the holiness practiced by the Scribes and Pharisees because it has to do with mere conformity with the external prescription rather with the heart. He challenges his disciples to move beyond the holiness that has to do with enhancing one’s status and public persona and practice an authentic holiness that has to do with integrity, love and service, the holiness that touches the depth of who we are.
We are challenged to go beyond the letter of the law, beyond the minimum requirements to loving others at our own cost.
In today’s episode, Jesus pushes the envelope still further. He stretches the limits of love and redefines its meaning in the process. “You have learnt how it was said: eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say this to you: Offer the wicked man no resistance”. This and similar commands like “love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” seem unrealistic and unachievable in the age of terrorism. Yet disarming violence with nonviolence and especially by benevolence is precisely the fundamental ethics of the Kingdom. It is at the core of Jesus’ teaching and therefore the core of Christian discipleship. We are challenged to go beyond the letter of the law, beyond the minimum requirements to loving others at our own cost. We can do so on the basis of knowing ourselves to be enriched by the divine generosity and therefore to act with such generosity towards others is not impossible.
The Royal Commission has been examining how the clerical culture within the Catholic Church contributed to the crimes of and the shocking response towards sexual abuse. It has delivered a shameful indictment not simply on the perpetrators and their enablers but the Church’s collective and systemic betrayal of the Gospel.
We need to convert to the humble and servant Christ
Nevertheless, the Church must be grateful for the work of the Royal Commission. More importantly, we must seize this Kairos, this moment of grace as a catalyst for change and not treat this period as a temporary aberration. It can never be business as usual. We must have the courage to see how far we have drifted from the vision of Jesus, repent of our sins and face up to the task of reclaiming the ethics of the kingdom and the role of being a beacon of hope for the broken humanity. As a church, we cannot move forward until we have fully embraced Jesus’ radical and subversive call to abandon the culture of power in favour of wholesome relational discipleship.
We need to convert to the humble and servant Christ, one who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life for all. In the post Royal Commission society, we must learn to persuade others by our observance of the ethics of the Kingdom where the culture of humility, mutuality, compassion and benevolence replaces that of power, status and privilege. Let us pray that, we may learn to influence, albeit from a position of weakness, vulnerability and smallness, the world around us by our authentic witness to the Gospel.