Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily from 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
17 July 2016
Some of you might have heard of the game called Pokemon Go, which is the latest craze at the moment. Young people are often seen playing this game on their smart phones. They would go anywhere and do anything in order to hunt and capture these virtual creatures that appear throughout the real world, even in our Cathedral courtyard. Some give up their day jobs; others are caught trespassing private properties. It’s like an epidemic.
That is just typical of the world of distractions and illusions that we are living in. It’s not only the young who are drawn into this world. We can worry and vex about the things that do not matter in the long run; we can entertain the trivial and the frivolous; we can dabble with mediocrity and preoccupy with concerns that are ultimately not important. I don’t mean to dismiss genuine concerns like job security, mortgage, children’s welfare and education etc.… that take up much of our time and energy. However, there is a real temptation to race ahead in our time-deprived lifestyle and forget to pay attention to what really matters all around us.
Scriptures this Sunday call us to live our lives with a kind of spiritual attentiveness that allows us to engage with the manifestations of the Spirit. In the first reading from the Book of Genesis, we hear the story of a divine encounter between Abraham and the strangers at the Oak of Mamre. Though there were three of them, Abraham addressed them as “My Lord”. Christians later would see these three visitors as a foreshadowing of the Trinity. Abraham was keenly aware of the divine presence.
His response showed the depth of his faith: “My Lord, I beg you, if I find favour with you, kindly do not pass your servant by”.
We can hear the echo of his words of humble faith and trust in the centurion’s response to Jesus, which we ourselves repeat before Communion.
Abraham and Sarah were hospitable to the divine visitors and were rewarded with the long awaited pregnancy of their child. They taught us the art of living with spiritual attentiveness. If you like, they showed us how to live the sacrament of the moment. God often comes to visit us in disguise, and like Abraham and Sarah, we need to be able to recognise him. We need to have our eyes opened, unscaled like those of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus in order to see the hidden God in our midst. It is not God who passes us by. Rather, it is through our lack of attentiveness or our spiritual disengagement, we fail to see that life in each mundane detail, in the present moment, contains the hidden presence of God.
The story of Martha and Mary provides further insight into how we ought to live the sacrament of the present moment in order to be fully engaged with the manifestations of the Spirit. They welcomed Jesus into their house. But while Mary was intent on listening and conversing with her guest, Martha was like one of the contestants in My Kitchen Rules. She came to a point of frustration and asked Jesus to intervene. To her surprise, Jesus said that it was Mary who chose the better part and it should not be taken away from her. Surely, Jesus did not mean to put down Martha or take sides in an apparent sibling rivalry. I know every time I come home, my mum fusses over the food and I cannot but appreciate her practical concern for me. Perhaps something of greater significance than food and hospitality is implied in the story.
Jesus is telling us that we need to pay attention to what really matters. We need to see life through the filter not of competition, success and achievement. Rather, it is the prism of God’s love and concern for his people; it is the Kingdom and its righteousness, which ought to be the ultimate driving force of our lives. Paul in the second reading showed us something of this passion when he spoke of his sufferings as a result of the Gospel. The sufferings he alluded to had much to do with the battle he had fought against those who insisted circumcision on Gentile Christians. It was the inclusiveness of the Kingdom and the radical acceptance of everyone in the Church of God that made Paul into the faithful steward of the Good News. Paul’s hard-fought victory that all are loved by God, all are of equal value, Jew or Greek, male or female, circumcised or uncircumcised, needs to be revisited again and again as we engage with many contemporary social issues.
The Word of God today challenges us to live our lives not enslaved by superficial or secondary concerns but rooted in the values of the Kingdom. Amidst the many distractions and illusions that threaten us to lose our focus, we learn the importance of mindfulness to God’s presence and action around us. Like Abraham and Sarah, we learn to recognize him disguised in our brothers and sisters, including strangers who need our compassion and empathy, not apathy and judgment. Like Martha and Mary, we learn to choose the better part of true listening, discerning and engaging with coalface realities in an effort to bring forth the Kingdom of justice and inclusion. That is the task and the mission of every Christian no matter who we are, what we do and the circumstances of life we find ourselves. May we through our being rooted in Christ and his values be transformed into the stewards of the Good News.