Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Solemn Chrism Mass Year B 2021 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
Readings: Isaiah 61:1-9; Apoc 1:5-8; Lk 4:16-21
31 March 2021
Becoming a community that brings Christ’s ministry alive
My dear people and co-workers in the Lord,
It is with a sense of deep gratitude and trust that we have come together for this Chrism Mass. Here in our mother Church, we renew our commitment to walk the path of faithful discipleship and to make present the ministry of Christ.
In so many ways, we are living in an unprecedented time. The pandemic together with other disasters have caused much pain and suffering to our people even if Australia is still the lucky country in many respects. We are challenged to reshape our lives, communities and world in such a way that brings God’s restorative justice in the world.
Of course, the elephant in the room is the very future of the Church going forward. The Mass attendance record after the Royal Commission was already cause for concern. No one knows the full impact of the pandemic on the practice of faith in what is one of the most secularised countries on earth. What is certain is the need for deep discernment and courage to embrace God’s new direction. The experience of darkness, fragility and loss provides us with an opportunity for necessary change and transformation. It is characteristic of true believers to embrace the newness that the Holy Spirit awakens in and through crisis.
The Word of God this evening speaks of purposeful discernment and critical action in times of chaos. We must have the courage find new fresh ways of being Church that reflect authentically the person and message of Jesus, and empower our people with fresh hope.
This was what the prophet Isaiah did during one of the most unsettling times in Israel’s history. The exiled Jews were given a dose of encouragement and optimism through a messianic prophecy. Isaiah made known God’s intent to rehabilitate the life of the dispossessed out of impoverishment, powerlessness and despair. The Anointed of God would bring honour to his dishonoured people; a garland instead of ashes and oil of gladness instead of mourning. He would heal the broken-hearted, comfort the sorrowful and free the captives. The renewal project is not a repetition of the broken old system or a restoration of a bygone era of prosperity, power and glory. Rather, it is the time to live out the fundamentals of the covenant and to shine out as a beacon of hope for the nations.
That is a sobering and poignant lesson for the Church today, too. We have much to learn from our ancestors in faith. In the spirit of humility and repentance, we need to focus our attention squarely on how authentic we are in being the sacrament of God’s compassion and care for the least and the last. The Church is first and foremost a presence, an oasis of hope and Good News. We must learn to be once again the Church that binds up broken hearts, proclaims freedom to captives and comforts all those who mourn. It is the Church that accompanies people on the margins and the peripheries of life.
In the Gospel, Jesus takes up the message of Isaiah and turns it into a kind of personal manifesto. The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the dead raised and Good News preached to the poor constitute the signs of God’s reign. Wherever Jesus goes, people experience its inbreaking power through his person, teachings and actions. He fulfills the messianic prophecy of old and makes present the divine intent of redemption and reconciliation.
The challenge for us today is to be the Church on mission for those who long for healing, affirmation, encouragement, justice and love. We cannot be an inward looking group but a missionary and prophetic community of disciples. We cannot be that community without engaging with those on the margins of life.
Pope Francis famously commented on a passage from the Book of Revelation in which Jesus stands before the door and knocks. The Pope said: “Today Christ is knocking from inside the Church and wants to get out.” He challenged us to think beyond the walls of the institution, because that is where people are looking for Christ, too, not just inside. We must not be an inward-looking and maintenance-focused people. Rather, we must be willing to be mission-oriented, serving people where they are, in our parishes through liturgy and sacraments, but also through pastoral closeness to those wandering in the new Babylon, that is the “strange land” beyond the pews.
Brothers and sisters,
The Church today needs to enact the Kingdom vision of Jesus more than ever. In the midst of the moral, economical and environmental wreckage, we are summoned to be the custodians and enablers of God’s life-giving dream. The crisis we face is a time of grace insofar as it engages us with our founding stories and with fresh insights we can offer a new way forward. Let us pray that we may grow through chaos and uncertainty in order to be more aligned with God’s purpose. May we become God’s priestly and holy people, anointed to serve and with the one who is the Alpha and Omega, may we bring the Kingdom to birth and to fruitfulness in the world.