Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Vigil Mass of the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe in Year C 2016 at St Anthony of Padua Parish, Toongabbie
19 November 2016
There are times described as watershed moments when everything changes that will never be the same as before. It may be political history like the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Brexit or the recent American election. It may also be personal like the discovery of a terminal illness or children leaving home. As a parish, you are also living through a time of change in terms of pastoral leadership.
I have lived through a few of those critical moments and on hindsight they have mostly been transformative for me. My boat journey was one. It changed my life forever. Initially it was a downward journey because the moment I stepped into the refugee camp, I felt a crisis of identity. My sense of self-worth and dignity hit rock bottom. If the downward journey was daunting, the journey from the bottom up was even more formidable in terms of your struggle to regain your self-worth. It is this perspective from below that allows me to empathize with the struggles of others. Even as a bishop, I endeavour to see things from the bottom up rather than the other way around.
There are times described as watershed moments when everything changes that will never be the same as before.
The watershed moment or the downward journey has arrived for Catholics. Like a river has changed course, history has reached a moment where many things have changed or have receded from view. Our pews are no longer packed with worshippers; our convents and seminaries are no longer full; our parish fetes and processions are the things of yesterday. The church is no longer the dominant force in society; her priests and religious are not respected as they once were. Adding insult to injury, the public scrutiny is more intense and often more negative. They seem to delight in our fall from grace, feeding us with incessant unwanted publicity.
How can we persevere in the hard walk of faith and trust? How can we resist the temptation to abandon what seems to be irrelevant and unpopular in the world of scepticism and unbelief? The doomsayers would say, there is no future, there is no hope for the church in the 21st century. Its demise seems irreversible. Yet, if the biblical narrative is any guide, it tells us that new beginnings often emerge out of the ashes of the old. That means a certain dying is not only inevitable but necessary. If the church was to pattern itself on Christ, we ought to be prepared to walk the downward journey to total self-emptying; we must not be afraid of being stripped off the old self which was steeped in fortress-like mentality, power, prestige, affluence and influence. We must learn to put on new self: humble, vulnerable and powerless Christ.
Yet, if the biblical narrative is any guide, it tells us that new beginnings often emerge out of the ashes of the old.
Today’s feast of Christ the King gives us reassurance that all things are being brought to fulfilment in accordance to God’s purpose. We should not be discouraged when we face seemingly insurmountable obstacles and crises. For nothing can undo the victory of Christ over sin and death. The march of history is firmly and irreversibly moving towards the fullness of liberation.
The Word of God helps us to understand the true nature of the kingship of Christ and how we as his disciples can advance his kingdom. The book of Samuel tells us how David is anointed king of Israel at Hebron. David as we know comes from a humble background. He was the smallest of the tribe and the boy shepherd who nobody thought worthy of being chosen. Yet, this was the way of God, the divine paradox which would manifest itself throughout history.
“Indeed I promise you, today, you will be with me in paradise.”
In the Gospel story, we see the divine paradox manifested at the unlikely moment of Jesus’ crucifixion. For all intents and purposes, it was a moment of profound despair, total incomprehension and even complete failure. Jesus was ridiculed and mocked. “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the Christ of God.” His whole mission seemed to have ended in the most disastrous way imaginable. But it was not evil that had the upper hand. It was not betrayal, injustice, cruelty, violence and death that had the last word. In the midst of despair, pain and loss beyond telling, Jesus issued words of hope and salvation to the good thief which defied human logic “Indeed I promise you, today, you will be with me in paradise.” It’s the triumph of God’s love writ large.
The Good News invites us to live our watershed moments with faith and courage. As a Church, we are invited to live this time of crisis and uncertainty. In a way, we are in a new exile just like the Jews of old. The church is being marginalised by the secular society. Its loss in terms of prestige, power, influence and reputation continues unabated. The downward journey seems to mirror that of Christ, which culminated on the cross. Yet we can be confident that God will bring about a purified and revitalised Church, not necessarily large and powerful like the imperial Christendom of old, but a more authentic sacrament of God’s grace in the world. As individuals, we are called to constant conversion and renewal, especially by means of the adverse changes around us. At the end of the day, if God can renew humanity out of a few faithful through the exile, there is hope for us in adversity. We can indeed see adversity as a means of grace and transformation.
We can indeed see adversity as a means of grace and transformation.
May we have the wisdom and strength of Christ to live our watershed moments, personally and collectively, and be transformed into the sacrament of God’s presence and love for others in the process. Let us pray for the courage to walk the downward journey of self-emptying, of life-giving, of servant discipleship that Christ our King exemplified for us on the cross.