Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi Year B 2018 with the Rite of Ordination to the Diaconate of Jack Green at Sacred Heart Parish, Westmead
2 June 2018
Brothers and sisters,
Several years ago, when the outbreak of the mysterious epidemic called Ebola started to make headlines throughout the world, Time magazine reported a moving story of a group of missionary sisters who were in the firing line helping the hapless victims. The nuns from Italy, appropriately named “the angels of mercy” devoted themselves to hospital services in an area of Zaire notoriously known for poverty and government corruption. They practically managed the hospital from A to Z, from paper work to cleaning the floor, getting medicines and supplies; one sister even had to run the generator. Their hospital was the first to treat victims of the epidemic. Not long after, the sisters also contracted the disease. One by one, they succumbed to the virus. By the time the last sister died, most of the townspeople kept their distance or avoided coming to her funeral altogether. Some even screamed and scattered when they saw her coffin coming, covering their mouths as they ran away. As for sister’s body, it was unceremoniously splashed with bleach, wrapped in plastic and buried in a graveyard sprouting with makeshift wooden crosses – legacy of human tragedy.
Stories like this drive home to us the life-giving spirit of Jesus which is still at work in the world, sometimes, paradoxically in the midst of tragedies such as illness, suffering and death. The sisters gave themselves away completely in service of others. Their death became a testimony to the Christian spirit of selfless love, a witness to the essence of what Jesus lived and died for.
Today, in celebrating the Feast of Corpus Christi, we are reminded once again of the life-giving nature of the Eucharist. We are reminded of the God who – in the words of St John – so loved the world that he gave up his own son. In the Eucharist, the nature, the essence, the uniqueness of the Christian God is revealed in self-sacrificial love. Thus, to be Eucharistic is to lay down one’s life, to become the body broken and the blood shed for the life of the world. St Augustine put it like this: “Receive what you already are and become fully what you have received”. The feast reminds us much more than the duty to worship the Real Presence. It is to become what we eat, to be another Christ for others, to be Eucharistic in our self-giving love, in our reaching out and in our embrace of all people in the manner Jesus showed us.
Scriptures today highlight the sacrificial significance of the Eucharist through the symbolism of blood. In the first reading, Moses sprinkles the people with the blood of the sacrifices and in this way seals the covenant between God and Israel. The ritual, repeated yearly, is called the Day of Atonement whereby the sins of the people are washed away. The Letter to the Hebrews portrays Christ’s saving action in terms of this ritual. The blood of Christ, not of animals now has the effect of cleansing and renewing our covenant relationship with God.
In the Gospel, Jesus anticipates the sacrifice of the cross with the Eucharistic words and actions: “This is my body” and “this is my blood which is to be poured out for many”. To eat his flesh and to drink his blood is to participate in his life-giving death and resurrection. It is to be Christ’s presence in the world and that isn’t always easy because there may be a price to pay. It is also a profound statement of solidarity with all who suffer throughout the world. This is not something we do alone, isolated from one another, but as a community, in solidarity with Christ and with our brothers and sisters who form his Body on earth. So, let us become more fully what we already are: Christ’s body broken for others and his blood poured out for many.
My dear friends,
This evening, we rejoice in the diaconal ordination of Jack Green. He is ordained for service and leadership in the context of changing times. In the world which is deeply suspicious of institutional religions, only the true measure of discipleship counts. We need to be purified of all that is the antithesis of the Gospel spirit. We need to convert to the self-giving and self-emptying Christ. The ordained ministry is modelled on his ministry. It is not a form of prestige, power and domination. We, ministers in the Church, are called in a special way to mediate, to make present the selfless, life-giving ministry of Jesus. But all of us who celebrate the Eucharist are called to be his presence and his love to each other and to the world.
In this time of collective soul searching and institutional repentance, we must learn to be more Christlike in our identity and mission. We must learn to be Christ to one another, especially the most vulnerable among us; otherwise as St Paul warns us, “we eat and drink our own judgment”. We must continue to be a church where all people, especially the most vulnerable can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live according to the Gospel. Let us pray for Jack and all those who are called to the ministry of leadership and service. May the example of the One who gave up his life for his friends inspire us to a life of selfless love. As we celebrate and share the Eucharist, let us commit ourselves to the journey of transformation. May we grow daily into the Eucharistic Christ who reaches out to all people and who gives himself fully for the life of the world.