Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily from 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
24 July 2016
Life can sometimes produce dilemmas for which we have no right answers. Take the case of the parents of the 5 year-old girl Juliana Snow who had incurable neuromuscular disease. Juliana sparked an international conversation about wrenchingly difficult decisions for terminally ill children. Her parents who faced with a painful dilemma consulted her about whether she would want to go to hospital or stay home. With only little precious time left, Juliana chose to die at home. In her own words, she chose heaven over hospital. She had full support of the doctors and nurses but died shortly after in her mother’s arms. Despite the ordeal, Juliana’s story touched millions of people around the world. Her legacy is that she lived life to the full, marked by courage and surrounded by love.
Today’s scriptures call us to a life oriented to the Kingdom in spite of all things to the contrary. The faith-filled disciple is committed to live by the values of the Kingdom and to witness to its power in his/her life and relationships. In the first reading, Abraham found himself in a difficult situation. His nomadic journey had taken him to Sodom where he had settled with his clan. However, because of the evil done there, destruction was inevitable. Strange as it sounds to us, the book of Genesis tells this episode of Abraham bargaining with God.
He kept haggling and badgering: “Are you really going to destroy the just man with the sinner?”
God showed his patience. Ultimately, though, Abraham had to flee Sodom and move to another town. But through it all, he himself learned to live by the will of God. He himself was formed by God’s mercy and justice.
This is also the teaching of Jesus concerning prayer. It is not so much about getting the results we want. Neither is it a matter of saying a set prayer or reciting a written formula, in the way that the Scribes and Pharisees relished in doing. Rather, for Jesus, prayer has to do with our relationship with God our Abba and how that relationship is oriented and nurtured. In other words, like Abraham who was changed by his prayer to God, prayer puts us at God’s disposal. It changes our minds, our attitudes and the way we live. The biographer of St Francis wrote that he became one with Christ. He did not merely pray as much as transformed himself into a living prayer. That is the essence of Jesus’ teaching on prayer.
In the Our Father, Jesus situates our concerns in the larger context of the Kingdom and its values. This is not to dismiss our intercessory prayers and petitions as unworthy and unnecessary. Jesus teaches us that God is the God who cares for the whole of life, even its minuscule detail. God is the God of goodness who knows and gives what his children need. However, it is by being in symphony with the mind of God and having God’s expansive vision that we can bring all of life to its proper end.
“The pagans pursue all these things and your Father knows that you need them. But you must seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you”.
Brothers and sisters,
Scriptures today call us to live our lives firmly grounded in God’s love and oriented towards His Kingdom. Our journeys can take us through many twists and turns. At times, like Abraham, we cannot see clearly the road ahead; or like the parents of the terminally ill child, we cannot we find the answers to life’s many problems. Yet, by walking with the God of infinite horizons and by pursuing the justice of His Kingdom, we are nurtured and transformed.
We are called to make God’s Kingdom a reality in our own time. We are to walk the dusty road of life to meet people’s wounds, hurts, sicknesses and broken relationships. Lives healed, sustained and transformed continue to be the dream of Jesus. Our discipleship is about the nurturing and realizing of that dream in spite of all the opposing forces at work in the world. Australia is a very lucky country. But we still have a lot of “Kingdom” work to do in terms of creating a more just, inclusive and compassionate society for all. Perhaps, Christianity or specifically Catholicism need to regain not so much its former influence in an increasing secular Australia, but the quality of its witness by way of our ‘Kingdom’ work of justice and radical love.
We are not living in the golden era of Christianity. This constitutes a challenge and a blessing in disguise. It means that we are no longer respected simply by our membership in the biggest institution. We are challenged to show our worth by our action that demonstrates our belief. The true Christians today are those who live by conviction rather than by profession. True Christians today are known by quality of their witness rather than by quantity, number or any external measure. Let us pray that we have the courage to respond to God’s call to live our discipleship authentically.
May we follow Christ in the nurturing and realising of God’s reign of universal love and comprehensive justice, even in the midst of doubt and uncertainty.
May Christ’s victory on the cross be our guiding light and our inspiration at all times.