Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily from Foundation Day with St Pauls Catholic College, St Patrick’s Cathedral
01 July 2016
Dear friends at St Paul’s,
It is great for us to gather here this morning and celebrate our college foundation day. As a catholic community we draw our strength and inspiration from Christ. We look to the model of our Christian faith of St Paul. He is the apostle of the gentiles, because he brought the Christian faith beyond the narrow confines of race nationality. He fought hard for the rights of non-Jewish Christians who were the minority in the church at the time. Though we are many, we are truly one in the faith that St Paul preached and gave us as a spiritual legacy. May this unity in diversity continue to be the distinguishing mark of our community. We need to demonstrate this Catholic ethos in the wold and country fractured and polarised by political, ideological, generational differences as we witnessed through evens like Brexit and even the campaign leading to the federal election this week.
On this feast of the conversion of St Paul, we marvel at the way Paul changed from a narrow-minded zealot into a true follower of Christ. We are encouraged to make that journey of transformation into the best person that we can be. Each one of us is called to grow from Saul of Tarsus to Paul of Damascus or the apostle of the gentiles.
In the first reading, Paul tells us how he experienced that moment of profound epiphany. He was struck by blindness as he travelled to Damascus on his way to persecute Christians. He fell off his high horse in more ways than one. But it was the fall from his privileged position and the physical blindness that was the catalyst for a whole new way of seeing, acting and relating. Paul was never the same afterwards. He learned to be humble, open and docile to God’s way. His strength no longer came from his status, entitlement, privilege and power. Instead, Paul would now learn to see the way God would see and it’s often from the bottom up or from the vantage point of the outcast. He would identify with the weak, the lowly and the marginalised. He would say God’s power is in the human weakness; grace in vulnerability and wisdom in folly.
From where I stand, the church as a human institution has had its Damascus moment in the sexual abuse crisis. It has fallen from the privileged position in society and the power and influence that came with it. Now like Paul in being led into a place of vulnerability, the church is being subject to a time of uncertainty and darkness until it can learn to see, act and relate in the way that is more genuine reflection of Christ the humble servant. We should not fear this time. For it can be a great opportunity and tremendous blessing in disguise. I am confident that the church will rise from the darkness and shine as a beacon of light and hope for the world.
Each of us also needs to under the Damascus experience in order to rid ourselves of everything that hinders us from growing into our full stature. Paul has turned 180 degrees in his attitude towards himself and others. He rejected this notion that we are the sum of our achievements and entitlements, power and status. He learned the self-emptying way of Christ and this enabled him to see and appreciate the inherent dignity of every human being. It is the lesson we can take home in our competitive and entitlement driven society. We learn to walk in the shoes of those marginalized, demeaned and ostracized by others.
“Go out to all the world to proclaim the Good News’’. These words of Jesus challenge us to be a transforming agent. We journey with our brothers and sisters, sharing their hopes and anxieties, their joys and sorrows. We endeavour to build the kingdom of God which is based on his universal and unconditional love. We are confident of the outcome or the end to which God has in store for all of his creation, the triumph of love over evil. The church at its best is the church in journey with others, sharing our treasures of the Gospel and also sharing their hopes and anxieties, their dreams and disappointments. It is the church willing to suffer with others, willing as Pope Francis said to be bruised and hurt in order to be the icon of Chris crucified.
In the lean time, a time of doubt, scepticism and apathy, Pope Francis highlights for us the importance of shedding what is unnecessary or indeed obstructive to our mission and focusing on what is essential. He encourages us all to return to the Gospel simplicity, humility and equality. WE are encouraged by his example to manifest the same humble and compassionate Jesus in our own situations and in our own ways. Though we are still surrounded by many challenges, we are assured that God is with us in his Church. We endeavour to live as Christ lived and learn to be the sign, the sacrament of his love and presence in the world. WE endeavour to do so especially through our embrace, our solidarity, our option for the poor and the marginalised. May St Paul the great bridge builder and trailblazer inspire us to work for the kingdom and to create a community that reflects the Gospel of Christ.