Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, and the 35th anniversary of the dedication of the church at The Good Shepherd Parish, Plumpton
Readings: Wisdom 6:12-16; Psalm 62(63):2-8; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13
11 November 2023
Wisdom that engages with the manifestations of the Spirit
Dear sisters and brothers,
It is with gratitude to God that we gather to commemorate the 35th anniversary of this church which has been a place of worship, a spiritual oasis and a missionary outreach for us. I have fond memories of the local Capuchin community and their impact on the lives and relationships of the people entrusted to their care over the years. As we give thanks to God for this symbol of His presence, we pay tribute to the friars and parishioners who have contributed to the rich heritage of Good Shepherd Parish.
When Pope Francis began his pontificate, the people gathered at St Peter’s Square and many of them carried banners that read “go and rebuild my church”. It was of course a reference to St Francis’ dream in which he was told to rebuild the church that was falling to ruins. This evening, as we celebrate this magnificent legacy, let us commit ourselves to the task of rebuilding the Body of Christ according to the pattern of poverty, humility, simplicity and servant-leadership in the best of our Franciscan tradition.
The Word of God this 32nd Sunday calls us to live our lives with a kind of spiritual attentiveness that allows us to engage with the manifestations of the Spirit. This is the key to how one can discern God’s will and respond accordingly, as shown by Abraham and Sarah, Mary and Joseph and indeed the saints of God throughout the ages.
The first reading exhorts believers to acquire the gift of wisdom. In a poetic fashion, the author compares wisdom to a faithful companion. She will make herself known to those who desire her. Those who seek wisdom will find her at the gates, that is, they will make right judgments. All the while, it is the wisdom that enables us to align our hearts and minds to God’s purposes.
It is no accident that the early Christian community saw in Jesus the divine wisdom personified. He is the manifestation of the wisdom of God who taught us how to transform our lives and relationships through a new consciousness. The disciples must change their default conventional wisdom into the wisdom of the cross, based on self-emptying love. In Jesus, we have a model of living life to the full, in service of others. In him, an alternative consciousness and mode of living is possible that will enable us to be the light of the world.
In the Gospel, Jesus uses the parable of the bridesmaids to remind his disciples of the need to be alert and responsive. It is a kind of spiritual sensitivity and vigilance that allows us to discern God’s presence and action in the world and to make a faithful response to it. The parable stresses the element of waiting in the dark of night as a symbol of transition. Night is a liminal interval, a time in which one stands between the old and the new. We must learn to listen in silence and stillness in order to discern and act according to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Activism without mysticism is empty of spiritual dimension.
The parable contrasts the attitude of the foolish and that of the wise bridesmaids. The latter carry their lamps filled with oil while the former have empty lamps. Matthew often uses small but significant symbols to highlight the importance of authentic discipleship. Thus, for instance, in the parable of the wedding banquet, the guest without the garment is disinvited and removed. The garment stands for one’s commitment to Christian living without which there is no admittance to the kingdom. Likewise, there is no substitute for the oil of service, love and compassion.
For Matthew and the early Christian community, it is the efficacy of faith that matters. True discipleship consisting of selfless service to the least and the last is what puts us in good stead before the judgment seat of God. The claim of familiarity by the foolish virgins parallels another Matthean passage: “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” It is not one’s status, privilege and entitlement but discipleship in action that counts. Jesus repudiates the Pharisaic notion that worthiness is based on one’s attributes, abilities and connections rather than personal integrity.
Dear sisters and brothers.
Our celebration of this milestone anniversary is a time of gratitude, trust and joyful hope in the future. We are grateful for what has been achieved. But we are also confident of a hope-filled future knowing that God will guide our efforts to model the Kingdom community and bring them to fruition. As we walk in the footsteps of our forebears, we renew our commitment to seek justice for the oppressed, care for the vulnerable, hospitality for the unwelcomed, shelter for the homeless, food for the hungry and the fullness of life for all.
In this time of war in the Holy Land and many other places, let us be witnesses to the Gospel of solidarity, justice, peace and human dignity of all. Things may be disheartening now but the future belongs to God and we must not lose heart but must act in favour of that future. May we become catalysts for a better Church, a better society and a better world. Then we can truly be the conduit of Gospel and the sign of hope for all. Let us live by this kingdom ethic and put into action a new paradigm of shared humanity, equality, inclusion and human flourishing.