Bishop Vincent’s Homily: A liberating encounter that renews our sense of purpose

By Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, 13 August 2023
Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta. Image: Diocese of Parramatta


Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta

Readings: 1Kings 19:11-13; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:22-33

13 August 2023


A liberating encounter that renews our sense of purpose


Dear friends,

I have just returned from a WYD pilgrimage with 170 mostly young people from our diocese. You will be pleased to know that we have had a safe, enjoyable and enriching experience. We traced the footsteps of the saints as we traversed through the heartland of Christian Europe. In Lisbon, we joined a crowd of over 1 million people from all over the world in celebrating our faith and renewing our commitment to mission. We are grateful for your love, support and prayers at home. As the Pope reminded the pilgrims, the World Youth Day is not a holiday or a show of Catholic triumphalism but an encounter with the living Christ.

The Word of God on this Sunday is also about an encounter with the God who empowers us for the journey of faithful discipleship. As pilgrims, we need to ground ourselves in a deep and life-giving relationship with him so that we may be able to embody his presence and to be the instruments of his purpose.

In the first reading, we heard the story of the prophet Elijah and his transforming experience on Mount Horeb, also known as Mount Sinai. Elijah took refuge in a mountain cave because he had been pursued by his enemy. In earlier episodes, he had challenged the King of Israel and his wife Jezebel who made the people turn from the God of the Covenant. Elijah had even killed 400 false prophets with his bare hands. On the run for his own life, he found himself vulnerable.

But crisis can be catalyst for change. On the mountain, Elijah learned that it was not through strength, machismo and violence that he would accomplish his mission. He witnessed a series of dramatic events: a mighty wind, an earthquake and a fire. Yet, God was not in any of these manifestations of power. Instead, against conventional wisdom, he showed himself in a gentle breeze or variously translated as a still small voice, a soft murmuring sound and a sheer silence.

Elijah’s meeting with God in the silence, coupled with his being fed by a poor widow, constituted a dose of gentleness, humility and vulnerability.  It challenged the notion of power by force, bravado and domination so prevalent in a trickle-down world of patriarchy. If Elijah was to be the precursor to the Suffering Servant of God, then he must speak God’s still small voice for the voiceless.

The Gospel story too presents us with a lesson of meeting God in the moments of fear, doubt and uncertainty. It tells of the unexpected storm and how the disciples came to recognise Jesus. Initially, they took fright and thought they had seen a ghost floating on the waters. Upon hearing the bidding of Jesus, Peter jumped off the boat and walked towards him. But his heroism was superficial. It was not unlike what happened at Caesarea Philippi. There, his profession of faith in Jesus as the Christ was quickly shown to be shallow when he tried to talk Jesus out of the cross.

Peter and his fellow disciples learned an important lesson. They met the same God who had revealed himself to their ancestors. Jesus who overcame the storm was a clear allusion to the sacred moments in Israel’s history, particularly through the Exodus. They were in the presence of the same God who accompanied his people from chaos of the sea to the safety of the land, from fear into belief, and from darkness into light. “Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid”. These words of encouragement from Jesus were an invitation to grow in their faithful discipleship.


Dear friends in Christ,

Like Elijah, we can be tempted to hide in a cave and to be shielded from all of life’s trials and tribulations. Like the disciples, we can be frightened when the storm comes our way. We need to hear the words of Jesus ourselves today so that we may be strengthened to walk the path of fidelity and to accomplish our mission.

The journey of transformation requires of us to have the courage to let go of the familiar and secure, the courage to launch into the deep, with everything that it entails. We must learn to hear the still small voice of the Spirit calling us to move from fear to courage, from security to trust and from self-interest to solidarity and communion.

Our Diocesan Synod is an opportunity for us to listen to the voice of the Spirit, to grow in faithful discipleship and to renew our resolve to be a Body of Christ serving, caring, lifting up and enabling one another to fulfill our mission. The Word of God today challenges us to be responsive to the call of walking beyond our limitations just as Elijah and Peter did. Let us rise to the occasion, walk the path of renewal and co-create a more fit-for-purpose Church now and into the future.

Out of vulnerability, the power of God is revealed. Out of a still small voice, his presence is manifest. May we be strengthened by the Eucharist to walk the journey of transformation and we may be leaven to the kingdom through our active discipleship, witness and engagement in the world.

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