Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for Holy Mass for the 1st Sunday of Advent with the Rite of Ordination to the Diaconate in Year A 2016 at St Thomas the Apostle Parish, Blackburn, Victoria.
27 November 2016
“Life is like a box of chocolates and you never know what you are going to get.” That saying made famous by the film Forrest Gump suggests life is a mysterious journey and we must be ready for surprises. We may not be able to dictate how our lives unfold. But when we are open to be formed by the journey, even those parts that remain unknown to us, we can facilitate our own transformation.
Brothers KM, KV and PT, your lives have been a journey with many twists and turns. In fact, like The Beatles song, the road has been long and winding, except that you might not have predicted that it would lead you here today. KM you thought your life was more oriented towards science rather than religion. With a PhD in Molecular Genetics from the National University of Singapore you should have great career prospects as a scientist. And yet here you are, on your way to become a priest. The old Irish joke is the smart boy goes to medicine while the other boy to the priesthood. Thanks for lifting the clergy IQ averages in Australia, including mine.
KV, you came from a large family like mine. After schooling, you worked in MSC administration in Fiji for 2 years. They must not have had too many skeletons in the closet because you decided to join them afterwards. I hope that you enjoy the sense of freedom and come to grips with the tyranny of distance in Australia.
PT, you are from a country which is known for birds of paradise and tree kangaroos. Yours and Australia have quite an affinity. The MSCs of course have made that affinity even deeper by many years of missionary endeavours. The new cardinal of Port Moresby is the fruit of those endeavours and so are you. You have enriched your community here just as they have enriched you.
God sure works in mysterious ways bringing three of you from vastly different backgrounds into the MSC family. Your openness to the stirrings of the heart and the promptings of the Spirit has led you on a journey of great promise and blessing. The God who formed you in your mother’s womb continues to guide you, at times off the beaten track and into a great unknown. And yet, if you are sensitive to his nudging and willing to go into the deep, he will make us into his instruments.
Christianity generally and Catholicism in Australia specifically have arrived at a critical juncture. In the world of politics, we’ve had Brexit and Donald Trump as signs of changing times. The watershed moment has arrived for Catholics especially in the West. Like a river has changed course, history has reached a moment where a monumental shift has occurred in terms of how people relate to matters of religion. The flood of secularisation has washed away much of the church we’ve known and loved. We’ve lost parishes, we’ve lost convents, we’ve lost priests, brothers, sisters and of course many more of the faithful. We have been battered and bruised. We’ve been reduced in number and status. The priesthood used to be the most respected profession. Not long ago, it had an aura of mystique and social prestige. Now that aura all but evaporated in the wake of the Royal Commission.
Yet, as the Word of God challenges us today, this watershed moment calls for deep discernment, courageous reimagination and prophetic action rather than fear, intransigence and defence of status quo. The whole thrust of message this first Sunday of Advent centers on the need for openness to, engagement with changing realities. Isaiah prophesies of the mountain Temple of the Lord which will unify all the nations in peace and harmony. This was the invitation to God’s people to live up to their call of being the beacon of light during the tumultuous time of the exile. Isaiah moves them beyond the ruins of the old inward-looking Temple to a vision of the new temple where swords are turned into ploughshares. That’s prophetic!
In the Gospel, Jesus uses the example of Noah to call for deep discernment, courageous reimagination and prophetic action in transition times. Noah is a leader who has the ability to know what is around the bend and to be ready for it. The rest, instead, just continue on their merry way, completely oblivious to the writing on the wall. We may not be eating or getting into drunken orgies like the Romans in Paul’s time, however, the lesson of seeing, judging and acting prophetically is very much poignant to us as we face very uncertain times ahead.
As I see it, Pope Francis is the new Noah. He has seen the writing on the wall for the church and has called us to the whole new way of living the Gospel which will correspond with the signs of the times and the needs of the people. Instead of holding on status quo with a business as usual attitude, he champions an attitudinal change: from domination to partnership, from clericalism to service, from self-reference to openness, from Baroque splendour to simplicity, from triumphalism to humility, from top down obedience to collegiality and collaboration, from siege mentality to engagement, from confronting to listening, from culture warfare to dialogue, from imposing rules to accompanying with love.
KM, KV and PT,
You are ordained to diaconal ministry today in the context of changing times and a corresponding heart and mind. It is like new wine in new wineskins. The old wineskins of clericalism and rigidity are no longer able to contain this new and better wine that people are yearning to drink. Your ordination today brings joy, hope and even renewal to us. Even though we do not know when the better future for the church might be, we are comforted and strengthened by your companionship. The journey might be uncertain but it will be less daunting when walked together knowing that Christ’s love for us is never ending.
We pray that the new wine of God’s unconditional love, boundless mercy, radical inclusivity and equality may be contained in the new wineskins of your humble and yet burning hearts. May you in turn pour it in the hearts of God’s people satisfying and nourishing them like the superior and flowing wine at the wedding of Cana.