Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 34th Thursday in Ordinary Time Year A 2020 at the ACBC Plenary, Melbourne
Readings: Apoc 18:1-2, 21-23, 19:1-3, 9; Lk 21:20-28
26 November 2020
Your liberation is close at hand
Dear brothers in episcopal ministry,
We are approaching the end of the liturgical year. The scriptures for this period often use apocalyptic language and imagery to describe God’s judgment on the world. But the end time is not doom and gloom for those who believe. Rather it is a time of purposeful discernment and intentional discipleship. Crisis awakes in the disciples a sense of deep listening that leads to alignment with God’s will and courageous action. It is an opportunity for us to participate in the eschatological liberation and the birthing of the new heaven and the new earth that God would bring about in Christ Jesus.
Our world may not be spinning out of control and the end time may not be imminent. However, everywhere we look, there seems to be chaos, division, and uncertainty. The global pandemic, the political and cultural protests, and the increasingly rancorous polarisation between and among communities of citizens have exposed the flaws of Western democracies. The Church too has been rocked by tumultuous events, both at home and abroad. The hope of bringing the millions of disenfranchised Catholics into the life of the Church seems to be beyond the realms of possibility even for the Plenary Council. How can we be people of Good News in such a hopeless situation? Where is the liberation about which we can hold our heads high?
In the first reading, John speaks of the Fall of Babylon as a prelude to a new era of joy and consolation. He uses the patriarchal but conventional metaphor of “the whore” to denounce the evil ideology and praxis of empires. Just as the prophets called God’s people to resist the dominating forces, John gives new hope to the early Christians who endured great calamity and persecution by the imperial power of Rome. He assures them that God would bring about a new future for his people.
John maintains, against all evidence to the contrary, that God will triumph over the forces of oppression and evil. A time of suffering will be followed by a time of celebration. In poetic language, he speaks of God’s faithful who will be invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb. The lesson for us is that pain and suffering will make us more authentic to our calling. Therefore, we should not fear and shirk from testing times. Rather we should embrace them and grow through them.
In the Gospel, Jesus also prophesies about a time of destruction and vengeance. Jerusalem would be laid to waste and its citizens would be put to the sword. But it is not a time for fear and trepidation. On the contrary, crisis can be a catalyst for the faithful to act as agents of hope and Good News for the Kingdom.
Things may be disheartening now but the future belongs to God and the disciples must not lose heart but must act in favour of that future. Therefore, we are exhorted to discern the way of God in times of turmoil and upheaval. What distinguishes us as true believers is the ability to discern and to live the creative power of the Spirit through the chaos of decline, death, and renewal.
Metaphorically, both John and Jesus speak about the destruction of the old structures of power and the emergence of the alternative relational paradigm under God’s rule. Against the background of loss and hopelessness, they both prophesy about God’s plan that summons the people to a new future, so that the matrix of brokenness becomes the venue for new possibility.
The Church must embody the alternative relational paradigm that is rooted in the radical inclusivity, mutuality, compassion, and powerlessness of Jesus. We will not have a better future if we persist in the age-old but outdated ecclesial paradigm of triumphalism, elitism, male domination, and clerical hegemony.
The metaphor of death and destruction becomes relevant for us as we witness an emerging Church from the ashes of the sexual abuse crisis. 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, clericalist Church. But let us not be afraid of the dying of the old just as the prophecy of destruction is followed by the fresh hope of a new dawn.
We lead our people in uncertain and challenging times. Christianity may be returning to the earlier times in terms of being a marginalised or even unpopular minority. But if we follow the example of our ancestors and the early Church in being an alternative society, a community of justice, inclusivity, solidarity, prayer, and support, then it is the future worth dedicating our lives to.
May the Holy Spirit guide us in finding new ways of doing things that will garner fresh energy for the evangelisation of today’s world rather than for self-preservation.