Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord Year A 2020 at St Paul the Apostle Parish, Winston Hills
Readings: Malachi 3:1-4; Heb 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40
2 February 2020
Golden Jubilee of Foundation of Winston Hills Parish
Brothers and sisters,
It is with a deep sense of gratitude that we have gathered to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of our parish community here at St Paul’s, which is aptly built on one of the highest points in the Hills District. For 50 years, it has stood as sign of God’s presence and an oasis of faith, hope and love. The Church is more than a building of course. We, therefore, celebrate above all the witness of this community through its commitment to worship, education, support and outreach that has made a difference to so many families and individuals.
There is an African adage that says, “You sit on the old mat to weave the new one”. Fr Dave Scott, the founding pastor along with the Holy Faith Sisters and other pioneering parishioners left us with a magnificent legacy in terms of a great physical infrastructure as well as a cohesive, generous and supportive Christian community. They wove a rich tapestry that is the envy of many parishes. We honour their memory by building on the legacy and by adding to the tapestry of faith, hope and love.
The Word of God for the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord speaks about times of upheaval and change, times of cleansing and purification. It encourages us not to be fearful and lose heart. Rather, like the faithful remnants of Israel, we should be alert to God’s actions in history and be courageous and faithful in our witness.
In the first reading, Malachi prophesies about the renewal of the temple and its worship. The Lord, he says, will purify the sons of Levi and they will make the offering as it should be made. The long exile that preceded the return to Israel and the rebuilding of the temple was seen in hindsight as a cleansing time. They will make the offering acceptable to the Lord on account of their renewed faith.
Malachi’s message is that God uses pain and suffering as a means to test and cleanse them, in order to make them more authentic, more true to their calling. Therefore, they should not fear and shirk from testing times. Rather they should embrace them and grow through them. The long arc of God’s story points towards not just Israel’s restoration but the restoration of all things according to the divine design. Malachi summons them to a new future after the exile. This new future does not simply consist in the regaining of former status in Palestine. It is not “Make Israel Great Again”. Rather it will be a humble remnant people learning to be a beacon of light and a sign of God’s presence in the world.
The Gospel reinforces the theme of hope and promise with a contrasting image of the new and the old. As the child Jesus is presented in the temple, Simeon and Anna recognise him as the glory of Israel and the light of all nations. In their wisdom and faith, they contemplate the Messiah and speak the prophecy concerning his future and the destiny of the whole humanity. Simeon and Anna stand in the long line of the remnant faithful. They were tested to the limits of their endurance. Yet their faith did not falter. They taught us how to be a bridge between the old and the new.
Our task is to live the creative tension between the pain of the present and the hope of the future. In the words of Paul, we are like earthenware vessels holding the inestimable treasure of Christ. If like Anna and Simeon, we are faced with decline and demise, we should not fear as long as we can pass on to others the hope, the light and the salvation that we have seen.
Brothers and sisters,
Just like the remnants returning from exile, we are told to take heart and discern the way of God in times of crisis. The metaphor of the new temple worship becomes relevant for us as we witness an emerging Church from the ashes of the sexual abuse crisis and its lightning rod, the Royal Commission. Our churches may not be destroyed like the temple in Jerusalem. But in many ways, the death of the old way of being Church is already evident for all to see: our reputation, moral credibility and trust capital are effectively destroyed in the wake of the sexual abuse crisis along with the vestiges of the old fortress, insulate, triumphalist, Christendom church. But let us not be afraid of the death of the old just as the burning in Malachi’s prophecy is followed by the new dawn.
Our celebration of the Golden Jubilee 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 bring the triumph of love out of the pain we bear. May we become catalysts for renewal and transformation through our commitment to and engagement with the Gospel values. Let us learn the art of living deeply in God’s love, attentive to His presence and responsive to His call. Then we can truly be the conduit of mercy and the sign of hope for all.