Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Baptism of the Lord Year A 2020 at St Oliver Plunkett’s Parish, Harris Park
Readings: Isaiah 42:1-7; Acts 10:34-38; Matthew 3:13-17
12 January 2020
Baptism of the Lord 2020: Baptised to serve the cause of right
Dear brothers and sisters,
It has been a catastrophic summer for Australia and our state of NSW in particular. 25 people have died, and 1,500 homes have been destroyed in the bushfire crisis. Countless creatures, including precious livestock, have perished and their habitats are decimated.
Despite the best efforts of volunteer fire fighters, fire brigades, emergency services, and the military, the destruction is likely to continue for some time yet.
There is little doubt that these fires and the drought have been made worse by human activities such as deforestation and burning fossil fuels.
The Catholic Church in Australia has called for a national response in addition to the practical help and support. Immediate responses are required now, but we cannot ignore or put off any longer the many other things that are needed too. We need urgent action to address climate justice and to care for our common home in order to prevent such calamities in the future. Courageous, informed and decisive leadership is needed to galvanise whole populations to adopt ways of thinking and living that are crucial in saving our planet from total devastation.
Four years ago, Pope Francis issued an encyclical on the environment and called for an “ecological conversion”, meaning a deep communion with all things that surround us. In that prophetic document, we have a blueprint for a sustainable future that is based on respect and love for this beautiful planet. The encyclical is offered to us as timely reminder that we humans are part of the interconnected cosmic web of creation and we need to live in harmony with it.
The Word of God today speaks of the wake-up moments that call for a sense of duty, commitment and decisive alignment with God’s plan. In the first reading, Isaiah in what is known as the Song of the Suffering Servant describes the mission of God’s messenger. “Here is my servant whom I uphold. I have endowed him with my spirit that he may bring justice to the nations”. In the midst of war, injustice and oppression, the Servant is called forth to serve the cause of right and to bring God’s justice to the oppressed. The Servant here may refer to Isaiah and every faithful believer. The Gospel writers would see Jesus as the ultimate fulfilment of this prophecy. He was the Servant who opened the eyes of the blind, freed the captives and brought the Good News to the poor.
In the Gospel, we are told about the time of transition. John the Baptist was the lone voice in the wilderness who spoke God’s word of truth, justice and love. Like Isaiah before him, John was able to see, hear and participate in God’s vision for humanity. He knew the Kairos and the wake-up call: what time it was to recognise the arrival of the Messiah and make way for him.
Likewise, Jesus himself was confirmed as the Beloved of God who would bring divine purpose to fulfilment in radically self-effacing way. His baptism signals a new era where God’s revelation moves beyond old patterns, certitudes and conventions.
Brothers and sisters,
Today, we are also challenged to move beyond old patterns of living and behaviour, both individually and collectively. In the light of the ecological crisis that demands a conversion of heart and a change of lifestyle, we must have the courage to align ourselves with God’s plan for the world.
As a nation, we cannot claim to be a responsible global citizen in addressing the moral challenge of our age while we lag behind other nations on climate action and continue to subsidize old polluting industries. This is a time to repair damage done to people, places, creatures, our communities and the earth. It will require both personal and political will in the immediate and longer terms. This is a time to transform our way of understanding the world, our place in it, and our way of living – our very cosmology.
The bushfire crisis should serve as a wake-up call to Australia and all Australians. We must have the courage to move to the new future where God beckons. The time has come for Christians to show the alternative pathway of hope, justice and sustainability against the ingrained culture of denial, fear and defence of the status quo.
In envisioning a messianic future of God’s chosen people beyond the exile, Isaiah encourages them to walk into new horizons. The revelation of God in Jesus also commits us to being open and receptive to the new and different ways through which he brings to fulfilment His Kingdom.
Thus, our celebration today calls us to follow the humble and vulnerable pattern of the Beloved of God. Let us pray that guided by a future to unfold before us, we may not be afraid to embrace the unknown pathways.
May God of the journey accompany and form us into His people and His instruments for the transformation of the world. May we also baptised and beloved take up our mission in the footsteps of our Lord.