Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily from 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, with the Blessing of Our Lady of the Nativity Parish, Lawson
13 November 2016
It is with great joy that we gather here at Our Lady of the Nativity to invoke God’s blessing upon this newly rebuilt church, a symbol of our enduring hope in hard times. It is a celebration of the indomitable human spirit, the resilience and the courage of this community in reaching for a better future notwithstanding all things to the contrary.
It is this same spirit, resilience and courage that will help rebuild not just a physical building but the community of faith called the church. When Pope Francis began his pontificate, the people gathered at St Peter’s Square and many of them carried banners that read “go and rebuild my church”. It was of course a reference to St Francis’ dream in which he was told to rebuild the church was falling to ruins.
Pope Francis, like his namesake, 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.
It is with great joy that we gather here at Our Lady of the Nativity to invoke God’s blessing upon this newly rebuilt church, a symbol of our enduring hope in hard times.
The old wineskins of triumphalism, authoritarianism, supremacy 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.
Transition times are inevitably full of chaos, uncertainty and even confusion. As the Holy Spirit leads us in a new exodus, we are called to go forward into the future with courage. We need to remember that the tough times can be the blessed times. The church was not at its best when it reached the heights of imperial power in what was known as Christendom. The church was at its best when it was poor, persecuted and powerless. Consistently, we true believers are challenged to be the beacons of hope in the midst of pain, suffering and despair.
Transition times are inevitably full of chaos, uncertainty and even confusion.
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.
Malachi’s message is that God continues to purify his people.
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.
Therefore, we should not fear and shirk from testing times. Rather we should embrace them and grow through them.
Our celebration of this beautifully restored church is indeed a fitting metaphor of the emerging church that God has commissioned us his disciples to rebuild. Let our hearts expand to accommodate the ways of God and let us become catalysts for renewal and transformation through our commitment to and engagement with the Gospel values. 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.