Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily from 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
26 June 2016
It is a great joy to be with you at this Sunday’s Eucharist. Often the bride experiences a kind of post-wedding blues after everyone has gone and she is left alone with her husband and his family. That can be pretty tough like the bride portrayed in my big fat Greek wedding. Well, I am a bit like the bride left behind with a bunch of strange in-laws here after the Installation. There was a post-party syndrome. But I haven’t been crying. Instead, I feel so blest with you who are my new family. Thank you for accepting me and giving me your warm welcome and support. You can be assured that I won’t be the runaway bride, not too soon anyway.
In as much as I am grateful for the way I was welcomed into the diocese and the city of Parramatta, I must not dwell on the glory, the attention, the banners bearing my photo etc… Like the experience of the transfiguration, it was meant to encourage me to go down to the dusty streets and to carry out my mission. Ultimately, the example of the servant leadership of Christ must spur me on.
Scriptures on this Sunday remind us of the demands of authentic Christian discipleship. The first reading tells the story of the call of Elisha. He was ploughing the field when Elijah came to anoint him. Aware that he was called to follow the prophet, Elisha asked to bid farewell to his parents. But then he made a clean and definitive break with his past there and then. He slaughtered the oxen, shared a meal with his servants and then left everything to follow Elijah. It was the leap of faith, the radical commitment, the courage to stake everything on the dream God had for him that we can learn from Elisha.
Christian discipleship is never for the faint-hearted nor is it for those who want to have a bob each way. I am reminded of the Irish joke about a lapsed Catholic who was dying but would not renounce the devil. “But Father, he told the anointing priest, it mightn’t be a good time to make new enemies”. Scriptures would beg to differ. Those who follow God would have to choose him and his values over and above others. Like Abraham, Joseph, Mary … they would have to stake everything on God’s plan for them: houses, possessions, emotional attachment to places, people, lifestyle etc… Nothing less than a total commitment is needed for a lifelong journey of Christian discipleship.
This is precisely what Jesus asks of his disciples. On the face of it, his demands seem harsh, unyielding and even unreasonable. “Leave the dead to bury their dead”, “no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom”. However, these are not so much literal injunctions as ways of emphasizing the importance of the undivided loyalty, the single-mindedness and the unmitigated dedication with which the disciples are to prosecute the cause of the kingdom. Christian discipleship ultimately takes us to Jerusalem with the Suffering Servant of God. Therefore, nothing short of a total consuming passion will see us through.
Ever since Pope Francis unexpectedly came onto the scene, he has challenged us to live out the demands of the Gospel. For him, discipleship has little to do with security, comfort, complacency and mediocrity. He challenged us not to dabble in mediocrity, not to prefer security and familiarity, not to cling to status quo at the expense of God’s comprehensive and radical dream for humanity. The pope from the periphery wants us to go to the margins, to stay close to those on the edges of life and to be that church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets and immersed in the coalface realities. It is the church that dares to do what Jesus did: to be all that it can be for the sake of others. As true believers, we endeavour to persevere in goodness, in love, in friendship, in solidarity with the oppressed, the asylum seekers, the children in detention, the homeless… and in all that is life giving for others.
Next Saturday, as citizens we face a choice with respect to the kind of political leaders we want in this country, the values they espouse and the kind of society they can help shape. The Bishops of Australia have issued an election statement calling on our nation: to look out for the voiceless, to protect the vulnerable, poor and weak, to treat asylum seekers with justice and dignity, to respect life and to be good stewards of creation. As disciples of Christ led by Pope Francis, we endeavour to put the values of the Gospel into practice; we are driven by that undivided loyalty, single-mindedness and unmitigated dedication to the cause of the kingdom.
Let us pray that we have the courage, the generosity and the humility to respond to the call of Christian discipleship, to stake everything on the plan God has for us as individuals and as the church. May we follow Christ in the nurturing and realising of God’s reign of love and justice, even in the midst of doubt and uncertainty. May Paul’s words encourage us to live God’s plan with passion. “I count everything as loss before the surpassing worth of knowing Christ and … being found in him.”