Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2023 and the annual Diocesan Wedding Anniversary Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta.
Readings: Exodus 22:20-26; Pslam 17(18):2-4, 47, 51; 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10; Matthew 22:34-40
29 October 2023
The witness of the true Christian love.
It is a great joy for us to gather with the jubilarians and give thanks to God for the gift of marriage, which they have shared with each other and their loved ones. Some celebrate significant milestones of 5, 10, 15 or 20 years. Others have enjoyed greater longevity of 40, 50, 60 and even 70 years of shared journey. To them, we say: “Thank you for your faithful witness to the love of God and neighbour!”
We are made in the image of the God who is by his own nature life sharing and life-generating. The book of Genesis tells us that we are created to be in relationship. It is not good that the man should be alone. Adam was incomplete by himself. When he was given Eve, he exclaimed in delight, “This at last is bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh”. Together, they were made more wholesome and complete.
Marriage is made for mutual fulfilment. We are also aware of many ways in which people can forgo married love in committing their lives to others: aged parents, the poor, the disadvantaged, homeless children etc. Thanks to Jesus, we also recognise the gift of celibate love in which women and men consecrate their lives to God and offer themselves to the human community in special ways of devoted service.
Whatever path we walk in our journey of giving and receiving love, we are not meant to be alone. We need to listen, learn, support and enrich one another. Your union in marriage reflects the union of the Trinitarian God who models for us a community of relational harmony, unity in diversity and mutual empowerment.
The Word of God this Sunday speaks to us about the importance of being such a community. God in Christ summons us to live and relate to each other in a way that no one is left behind, and that the care for all people and creation is at the heart of our daily endeavours.
In the first reading, we hear how the children of Israel receive instructions as to how they should live and behave towards each other. In Egypt, the Israelites knew what it was like to be on the margins of society and to experience vulnerability because of their social status and ethnicity. Now in the Promised Land, they are told they must show understanding, compassion and empathy towards others who are in similar situations: the strangers, the widows, the orphans, the poor and those in debt.
This is also fundamentally the message of Jesus. Last Sunday, he reminded his disciples to prioritise their commitment to serve in this way: “Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God”. In other words, the duty of Israelites is to build God’s Kingdom of justice, love and compassion as a contrast society to Caesar’s exploitative, trickle-down and oppressive system. In today’s Gospel, Jesus defines that same vision of God’s Kingdom in terms of loving God and neighbour. He reminds them of the Shema, which is the daily Jewish prayer calling them to love God over above everything else. He then joins this command with loving one’s neighbour, so that one cannot keep one without the other.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, we can see the way he expanded the idea of a neighbour to include not only the comrade member of the covenant community but also those who are considered outsiders and those who are seen as the ultimate “other”. In his embrace of the most vulnerable, despised and hated, Jesus presented a whole new way of seeing, acting and relating. He embodied the God who loves without limits and empowers wounded humanity for a life of grace and dignity. When we survey Jesus’ interactions with the people, those who showed great faith, openness and receptivity to him were not always the standard bearers, not always those who were of his race, religion, or even kindred. Instead, we found to our surprise, they were the unlikely characters: the lepers, the beggars, the foreigners, the tax collectors, even prostitutes and sinners.
Your anniversary celebration today brings joy, hope and even renewal to us. We are comforted and strengthened by your companionship. The journey might be uncertain but it will be less daunting when walked together knowing that Christ’s love for us is never-ending. We pray that Christ’s self-sacrificial love which you have sought to emulate in your marriage, will be the source of nourishment for many who you accompany on the journey.
Pope Francis is fond of saying that the Church is not a museum for saints or an enclosure for the virtuous. It is more like a field hospital, which heals the wounded, strengthens the weak and lifts up the lowly. In God’s Kingdom the outsiders can really become insiders, and the insiders can become outsiders. There is no one who we can write off as being too far outside God’s reach. Let us embody the God who is revealed in Jesus. May we – like the early Christians in Thessalonika – share the Gospel with others “with the joy of the Holy Spirit” and show the world the witness of the true Christian love.