Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily from 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C at Holy Family Parish, Mount Druitt
31 July 2016
It has been an eventful week in terms of what’s been in the news. Like many of you, I watched Four Corners program on Monday and found myself in a state of shock and anger at the way our justice system failed one of the most marginalized groups in our society: indigenous juveniles. For me the defining image of that systemic failure was that of a young boy hooded and strapped to a mechanical restraining chair.
I thought it could only have happened somewhere less civilized than this great country of ours. Yet it did. To our shame, this and countless other similar incidents occur in our justice system. Our indigenous people make up only 2% of the population. Yet they are incarcerated far more frequently and disproportionately. How can we be indifferent to the institutional failure that dehumanises the victims and makes us less than ourselves? How can we enjoy one of the highest living standards in the world while some of our fellow citizens are condemned to a cycle of hopelessness often through deep systemic discrimination?
The Word of God this Sunday helps us reflect on these sorts of questions. It makes a case against narcissistic and insular living. It challenges us to move beyond the world of self-interest and self-preservation, in order to be men and women for others in the example of Christ.
The book of Ecclesiastes, which contains ancient Jewish wisdom, admonishes us not to be too consumed by material concerns. After all, it asks, what profit comes to us from all our labouring? The rich and the poor alike must leave their possessions behind once their allotted days are over. All earthly pursuits are like chasing after the wind and will end in vanity. It seems to be a very dim view of life. Nevertheless, Qoheleth teaches us to trust God and strive after virtues despite the vanity, chaos and randomness of life. We only see parts, not the whole. But an exhaustive understanding is not a prerequisite for trusting God. The parts of reality we do see are enough to teach us to lives our lives in such a way that we inherit true wealth.
Ignatius of Loyola expresses it beautifully in his prayer: Give me only your love and your grace, that is enough for me.
In the Gospel, Jesus warns us against a self-enclosed living that leads to moral apathy. The rich man does not appear to have committed egregious acts of evil. He is simply consumed by his desire to grow richer and he is totally immune from what goes on around him. Yet he is condemned for being insular and closing himself off from others. Like the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, it is not the sin of commission but that of omission, that failure to act justly that constitutes reproachable behaviour. It is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer points out in his famous dictum ‘Doing nothing or silence in the face of evil is itself evil’.
St Paul in the Second Reading exhorts us to model our attitude and behaviour on Christ. Christians are counter-cultural and prophetic and insofar as we dare to name and to critique the anti-Gospel attitudes of the world around us. More importantly, we seek to reframe the harsh, unjust and inhumane realities that many experience into an alternative vision of hope and promote those values that will lead to the fulfilment of that vision. We show the way to a culture of encounter and acceptance by a radical discipleship of love and compassion, solidarity and service. We accompany the victims of injustice in the journey to freedom with a sense of total commitment and fidelity, even when the fight in favour of God’s justice for them necessitates our willingness to suffer.
As Christians, we cannot remain content with status quo, especially when that status quo is less than what God wants for us as individuals and as a community.
One of the constant themes of Pope Francis’ pontificate has been the willingness to suffer and risk everything for the sake of the Gospel. For him, Christian living has little to do with insularity, comfort, complacency and mediocrity. A self-serving and self-preserving mentality goes against the very nature of what it means to be a Christian and Church. In the Joy of the Gospel, he says: “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security”.
As Christians, we cannot remain content with status quo, especially when that status quo is less than what God wants for us as individuals and as a community. Australia is a great country but where it is in terms of its treatment of our indigenous people should galvernise us into action. We cannot be his disciples if we ignore the plight of the marginalised and the vulnerable. We cannot be salt and leaven if we allow our Christian conscience to be desensitised by the inequality, injustice and inhumanity in our society and in the world.
We are gathered for the Eucharist. We are fed with Christ’s body and blood. But we are reminded that the flesh we eat is broken for others and the blood we drink is shed for the life of the world.
In the Eucharist we receive Christ hungering in the world. He comes to us, not alone, but with the poor, the oppressed, the starving of the earth. Through him they are looking to us for help, for justice, for love expressed in action. Therefore we cannot properly receive the Bread of Life unless at the same time we give that Bread of Life to those in need wherever and whoever they may be.
We cannot drink the cup without our willingness to suffer for the cause of the Gospel. May our sharing at this table strengthen us in our commitment to be humble servants of our brothers and sisters. May we – filled with the fullness of life and love of God – share and live out the driving passion of Christ to be men and women for others.