Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2018 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
19 August 2018
Brothers and sisters in Christ,
Today, we Catholics all over the world celebrate Migrants and Refugees Sunday. Pope Francis always true to form in his unwavering commitment to the marginalised has summarised the Christian response in four keys words: welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating migrants and refugees.
Reflecting on his pontificate and global events in the last five years, he reminds us of the urgent need to care for those who have been forced to leave their homes for safety and a better future. The Holy Father calls on us to foster a culture of communion and love in a world where there is increasingly a culture of fear, suspicion and apathy.
The Word of God this Sunday speaks of the God who draws all people into a communion of love and fellowship in Christ. In his conversation with the people after the miracle of the loaves and fishes, Jesus challenges them to look beyond their daily preoccupations and immediate concerns. He points them to the deeper level of human living and flourishing, which is made possible not through the self-centred and survival-oriented behaviour but through the self-giving love made manifest in his own life.
This fundamental teaching of Christ is already implicit in the feeding of the multitude. The miraculous meal was not just a stopgap measure and a temporary relief to a group of individuals. Rather, it was an act of communion and solidarity. It foreshadowed the divine hospitality and inclusion of the Kingdom. Indeed, the meal, like many similar meals Jesus shared in his ministry, prefigured the ultimate act of God drawing all things and all people into his embrace. So much so that those who shared these meals could not remain indifferent to any mismatch between divine hospitality and human need. They must meet the need of others with God’s gift of abundance. In the words of Mary MacKillop, they or indeed we cannot see a need and remain indifferent. Those who share God’s Eucharistic gift of self-giving love must respond with the generosity and compassion of God shown in Christ.
“The bread I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world.” These words of Jesus sum up the meaning of his mission and challenge us to do the same. For wherever he went and whatever he did, he manifested God’s abundant and limitless love, especially to the poor and the vulnerable. In his words and actions, Jesus made present the radical embrace of God; he pushed the boundaries of our acceptance, inclusion and love. His ultimate act of self-offering on the cross was the climax of God’s radical embrace. We can therefore only be true to our Eucharistic identity when we recreate Jesus’ self-giving love for others.
The early Christians understood the significance of being fundamentally counter-cultural in how they lived, how they related, how they welcomed outsiders and shared resources with the disadvantaged. In the second reading, Paul exhorts the Ephesians to be filled with the Spirit and to live their Spirit-filled lives accordingly. This is an invitation to embrace a life of faith, hope and love based on the teachings and examples of Christ. It is also a clarion call to set themselves apart from the ruthless, dog-eat-dog world around them. Similarly, we are challenged to be a kinder, more inclusive, more caring alternative society under God’s rule. The Kingdom Vision of Jesus guides us as we endeavour to be a community that serves as an antidote to the politics of fear and the culture of self-protection and exclusion in our society.
As a former refugee, I remember with pride and gratitude the Australia that rose to the biggest challenge since the abolition of the White Australia policy. It accepted an unprecedented number of Asian refugees – boat people to be precise – for the first time in its history – though not without some growing pain. Australia – thanks to its generous embrace of migrants and refugees – has evolved to become a more diverse and dynamic country. We honour the legacy of this great nation not by isolation, self-protection and defence of our privilege at all costs. Rather, we make it greater by our concern and care for the underdog in the spirit of compassion and solidarity that has marked the history of our country and indeed the DNA of this ancient land.
The Gospel challenges us to be men and women for others. As we partake of the bread that is the body of Christ, we are meant to transform into a life-giving force for our brothers and sisters. We are meant to be able to say with St Paul “I live, yet no longer I, but Christ lives in me.” May we truly be guided by his example of radical love. May our endeavour to replace the culture of fear and indifference with that of encounter and acceptance be brought to fulfillment in accordance with God’s vision of the fullness of life for all humanity. May we who have been shown immeasurable love in Christ reach out in the spirit of neighbourliness to the unloved, the excluded, the disadvantaged and the dispossessed in order to bring them to the table of the Lord.