Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily from 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, with Closing of the Holy Doors for the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
13 November 2016
This evening, we have come to mark the end of the Jubilee of Mercy. I hasten to add that this does not mean that it is back to business as usual in our daily living and relationships with others. The Jubilee of Mercy is not a temporary aberration. Rather it has been an opportunity for us to reflect and live more intensely the fundamental call of the Gospel “to be merciful like the Father”. It has served as a launch pad for the whole church to contemplate the mystery of mercy and become a more effective sign of God’s action in the world. The closing of the Mercy Door today ends the period of the launch and leads us to the ongoing phrase of living God’s mercy. To put it in a different way, the focus of mercy moves from the Mercy Doors of churches and shrines to the doors of our hearts.
The Jubilee of Mercy has challenged the whole church to break loose from its comfort zone and self-referential mentality. Just as Christ did not stay put in his divine status but made the missionary journey to the world, the church too is called to make that same missionary journey to reach out, accommodate and accompany those struggling to live and still falling short of the Christian ideal.
To put it in a different way, the focus of mercy moves from the Mercy Doors of churches and shrines to the doors of our hearts.
Pope Francis, has dedicated himself to the task ever since that day when he bowed and asked the people for their blessing. It was a powerful symbol of a humble, listening and accompanying church. The new wine of God’s unconditional love, boundless mercy, radical inclusivity and equality needs to be poured into new wineskins of humility, mutuality, compassion and powerlessness. The old wineskins of triumphalism, authoritarianism and self-reference abetted by clerical power, superiority, and rigidity are broken. The servant leadership of Pope Francis is indicative of the new era of hope, even if we are struggling to find our way in the emerging and unfamiliar landscape.
God’s ways often involve the pain of letting go, of beginning again, of going forward with hope and trust. The Word of God this Sunday helps us to come to terms with our present situation and live it with courage, faith and hope. It talks about times of upheaval and change, times of cleansing and purification. It also encourages us to be vigilant, to hold firm and not to lose heart.
In the first reading, the prophet Malachi speaks about the burning anger of God. He uses apocalyptic language to describe the day of judgement. The wicked will be burned like stubble. But the sun of righteousness will shine on the just with its healing rays. Malachi’s message is that God continues to purify his people. He often uses pain and suffering as a means to test and cleanse us, in order to make us more authentic, more true to our calling. Therefore, we should not fear and shirk from testing times. Rather we should embrace them and grow through them.
The Word of God this Sunday helps us to come to terms with our present situation and live it with courage, faith and hope.
In the Gospel, Jesus talks about the impending crisis in terms of the challenges and adversities that his disciples must be prepared to face. Metaphorically, he speaks of the destruction of the old temple which will be a catalyst for a new Israel. The crisis that the death of the old will create will also bring believers an opportunity to bear witness to the new. The end time is not doom and gloom for those who believe. In fact, it can also be the blessing in disguise, the moment of purification and maturity of faith.
Brothers and sisters,
Just like the early Jewish Christians, we are told to take heart and discern the way of God in times of crisis. The metaphor of the death of the old temple worship becomes relevant for us as we witness an emerging church from the ashes of the sexual abuse crisis and its lightning rod, the Royal Commission. Our churches may not be destroyed like the temple in Jerusalem. But in many ways, the death of the old way of being church is already evident for all to see: our reputation, moral credibility and trust capital are effectively destroyed in the wake of the sexual abuse crisis along with the vestiges of the old fortress, insulate, triumphalist, clericalist church. But let us not be afraid of the death of the old just as the burning in Malachi’s prophecy is followed by the new dawn.
Like Francis of Assisi and his namesake Pope Francis, let us go and rebuild the church of God which will “shine with its healing rays” after the burning.
Let us continue to live the spirit of the Jubilee of Mercy which is that of true repentance, humility and conversion to God’s total self-emptying in Christ and his audacious identification with those on the periphery. Let us learn to reclaim the powerlessness of Christ and the fundamental ethos of care for the weak and justice for the excluded. Let us learn the art of living deeply in God’s love, attentive to his presence and responsive to his call. Then we can truly be the conduit of mercy and the sign of hope for all.