Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily from 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C at St John XXIII Parish, Glenwood-Stanhope Gardens
07 August 2016
I am pleased to be here to celebrate the induction of your new Parish Priest, Fr John McSweeney, who is also my Vicar for Permanent Deacons. We thank him for his generous service to the parish and the diocese. Under his leadership and with the support of Fr Robert William, Deacon Tan and all of you, may the work of the Gospel bear fruit and the mission of the Church in Stanhope Gardens strengthen and flourish going forward.
Ever since its beginnings, your parish has had its share of changes, some of which were rather dramatic. It is a bit like Elizabeth Taylor and her many husbands. You’ve had nearly as many priests as she had husbands in as many a year. That is not to say that those changes were always adverse for the community. We need to acknowledge the good that God has done often through or in spite of human frailty and forces beyond our control. Furthermore, we need to grow through changes –good or bad- and accomplish our mission in the world.
The Church in Australia faces daunting challenges both from within and from outside. Rarely a day goes by without some unfavourable headlines about her. Things have never been this testing for us who stay faithful.
We are strengthened, however, by the belief that times of great crisis can be catalysts for renewal and transformation. Our God can draw life out of apparent loss and hopelessness. New beginnings do often emerge out of apparent decline and even destruction. God indeed uses suffering and even death to recreate and make the Church more wholesome, more authentic and more effective instrument of his loving presence.
We must therefore be willing to embrace the pattern of dying and rising again: Dying to that which is not worthy of Christ and rising to that which he calls us to be. Our numbers and resources might diminish. Our credibility and reputation might suffer. But the most important thing is that we learn to live as Christ lived and radiate his goodness to those around us; we learn to be true “leaven and salt” to the world.
We are strengthened, however, by the belief that times of great crisis can be catalysts for renewal and transformation. Our God can draw life out of apparent loss and hopelessness. New beginnings do often emerge out of apparent decline and even destruction.
Scripture today encourages us to trust, to persevere, to act in favour of the Kingdom despite everything to the contrary. The Book of Wisdom exhorts us to follow the example of our ancestors in faith. These put their trust in God and joyfully endured the “night that had been foretold to them”. The “night” here refers to the kind of trials and tribulations that are described in the Letter to the Hebrews in respect of Abraham and Sarah. They hoped against hope. They put their faith in God even when it cost them everything. They trusted even when the blessings promised to them remained mostly unseen and unfulfilled. It was a giant leap of faith to leave the security of the past and walk into the unknown.
In the Gospel, Jesus uses the parable of the faithful servant to warn his followers against complacency and mediocrity. The lack of visible signs or the delay of the Kingdom’s fulfillment should not cause us to lose our focus and passion for the Kingdom. In other words, Jesus is calling us not to expect deliverance passively but to engage actively in our discipleship and witness. It is a call to action in favour of the Kingdom. It is also a summons to a hope-filled interaction with the world redeemed.
God indeed uses suffering and even death to recreate and make the Church more wholesome, more authentic and more effective instrument of his loving presence.
We need to be alert and open to God’s saving grace even in the most unlikely places and people. It is a fallacy and a delusion to think that we have the answer to every problem there is. Pope Francis says that the Church needs to know how to recognise the Lord’s action in the world, in culture and in people’s daily lives and experiences. It is not a siege mentality but rather a profoundly positive theology of incarnate grace that underlies the vision and direction of the Second Vatican Council. It calls us to broaden our perspective to be mindful of the truth, goodness and shared values even among people who differ from or oppose us.
Dear friends at St John XXIII,
Today as we celebrate a new beginning or a new chapter in the life of this community. Scriptures today challenge us to be bold, trustful, alert and open to God’s grace manifested in all vicissitudes of life. Like Abraham and Sarah, we learn to give ourselves in faith, hope and love. We commit ourselves to walk as pilgrims open to be formed and enriched by the journey. It is in our human nature to cling to what we know. They say better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. Yet our call is the call not to remain anchored in calm shallow waters. It is a call to launch into the deep, to walk the pilgrimage of faith like Sarah and Abraham.
Pope Francis has made the call to go out the dominant theme of his pontificate. He constantly reminds us of the challenge to question the status quo, to renounce security and mediocrity, to cross the street like the Samaritan, to meet God in the wounded and marginalised. Living the faith has something to do with the movement from security to boldness, from inward looking to outward looking, from preoccupation with our status quo and comfort zone to communicating God’s compassion to those who are on the edges of society and church.
This week, the Church in Australia honours her first saint, Mary McKillop who met the great challenges of her time with vision, passion and creativity. She challenged the status quo and envisioned new ways of living and sharing the Good News. May she intercede for us to do the same as we face the challenges of our time. May we also follow her example of making the missionary journey to our brothers and sisters in need and by our active discipleship, witness and engagement be the leaven for the Kingdom.