Bishop Vincent’s Homily for 10 September 2023

10 September 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

2023 23A: Prophetic awakening, healing and reconciling

Readings: Ezekiel 33:7-9; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20


Dear friends,

Both in society and in the Church, we are beset with conflict and division. We find ourselves pitted against one another in the battle of ideas, values, beliefs, practices and the like. Often, we are divided into opposing camps that antagonise and even demean rather than listening to each other. The partisan or sectarian division runs deeply like a fault-line and threatens to tear us apart.

Positive change will not be facilitated by divisiveness, blame and polarisation. Transformation will not flow freely through the barriers of our fear, intransigence and mutual exclusion. While there is no instant reconciliation, nor perfect convergence, we must not divert from the task of listening, discerning and growing together in the spirit of mutual trust.  As Christians, we have a duty to influence society according to the kingdom vision of Jesus. We are called to carry out the difficult task of prophetic awakening as well as healing and reconciling.

This is the focus of today’s liturgy. In the first reading, Ezekiel was called to be a sentry to the House of Israel and to be God’s mouthpiece. He was to watch for danger and sound a warning when it appeared. Ezekiel lived during one of the most tumultuous times in Israel before the exile. The Jewish monarchy had declined and the nation had fractured. The ruling elite had no concern for the poor, but instead manipulated the political chaos to their advantage. It was in this abysmal situation that Ezekiel was commissioned to speak God’s Word. He was not afraid to challenge the power that be. He condemned the ruling class who was indifferent to the cry for the poor and oppressed.

In the Gospel, Jesus teaches his disciples how to go about healing division and protecting harmony of a common life for all. When difficult circumstances arise, it is the duty of the whole community to come together and address them. When a brother or a sister strays, it is the duty of the whole community to restore him/her. In effect, we are called to be our brothers/sisters’ keepers. In our increasingly litigious society, Jesus provides us with the alternative Christian model of fraternal correction, care, accompaniment. Rather than allowing us to just walk away, Jesus calls us to explore possibilities that might lead to reconciliation. He outlines a deliberate, intentional process that involves listening, discerning and growing together.

Dear brothers and sisters,

Pope Francis has consistently called us to be the Church that listens to one another, and in particular to the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth. Listening is at the heart of a synodal church, which means the Church that walks together and discerns and acts together the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Diocesan Synod that we are embarking upon is a graced response to the Holy Father’s invitation and challenge to be the Church faithful to the vision of Jesus while being attentive to the signs of the times and responsive to the call to go out into deeper waters of the post-Christian society. Trusting in God, we accompany one another on this new Exodus. Pope Francis’s model of listening, dialogical and inclusive church inspires us to seek fresh ways of conveying the message of the Gospel to the culture in which we live.

It is not easy for us to model the listening, dialogical and inclusive way of being together in the current debate about the Voice. Yet, we must not shy away from this task of walking in one another’s shoes, especially those who have experienced trauma, hardship and disadvantage. We need to listen with deep respect and learn from them about what needs to be done to improve their situations. Strengthening our relationship the weakest links among us is indeed critical to the strengthening of the whole nation.

It is not easy for us to be the healers and restorers of what is broken and damaged in our interpersonal relationships or in the public sphere. Yet, that is our calling even as we were baptised and anointed like Christ as priest, prophet and king. We need to see, judge and act in a way that brings the Gospel to life. In particular, we need to be the voice for the voiceless, the force for justice and equity, the defence for the defenceless and vulnerable. St Paul reminds us that we should avoid getting into debt, except the debt of mutual love. We owe that debt especially to the poor, the needy and the suffering around us and beyond.

The Word of God speaks to us about the importance of peace-making, truth-telling and reconciliation. Jesus like Ezekiel before him was not afraid to disturb the status quo. He demands from us the courage to abandon security in favour of the insecurity of walking with the poor and the oppressed. If we are his true disciples, we must not shirk either from the inherent risk of discipleship. May the teaching and example of Jesus guide us as we endeavour to build relationships and communities that mirror the Reign of God. May we become catalysts for a better church, a better society and a better world. Then we can truly be the conduit of the Gospel and the sign of hope for all.

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