Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter Year B 2021 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
Readings: Acts 4:8-12; 1John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18
25 April 2021
Laying down our lives for others
Dear brothers and sisters,
This weekend, we commemorate Anzac Day. We pay grateful respects to those who sacrificed their own lives for others, for our country, and ultimately for the sake of a better world. We remember the pain of those who grieved their deaths and whose lives were changed forever by their wounding.
Anzac Day is not a celebration of the heroics of war, military power, and narrow nationalism. We cannot remain indifferent to the effects of war such as innocent deaths, injuries, and refugees dislocated from their homeland. Anzac Day causes us, therefore, to reflect on how we can contribute to a world in which the supreme sacrifice does not need to be exacted in the bloody theatre of war.
This year of the pandemic, we give thanks for the Anzac spirit that is shown in the courage and generosity of many Australians, their willingness to serve the needs of the community, especially those most at risk. We are inspired by the same spirit to share responsibility, give priority to the most disadvantaged, and build a more compassionate society.
Scriptures for this 4th Sunday of Easter remind us that the Christian life is fully lived by giving itself away for others. Jesus lived this paradox. He was the stone rejected by others and yet became the cornerstone. Hence, Christian discipleship is none other than the path of self-sacrifice, the path of the Beatitudes, of loving in spite of being hated, of joy in spite of sorrow, of living by dying for others.
In the first reading, Peter – filled with the Holy Spirit – is able to articulate the core message of the Good News. Instead of relishing the public admiration after he had healed the cripple, Peter tells the people that it is the power of the Suffering Servant, Jesus, that makes all things possible. It is He, Peter continues, the stone rejected, who became the cornerstone and living power of the believers.
In Jesus, we meet a God who saves not by a show of force and power. Instead, our God who saves is one who suffers with humanity. In this consists the paradox of the Christian faith, that God of power chose the path of weakness, vulnerability, suffering, and death. This means that discipleship can never be other than solidarity with those who suffer.
In the Gospel, Jesus uses the Parable of the Good Shepherd to show how much he cares for all, but especially the weak and vulnerable. He is the ultimate expression of the divine pathos towards humanity. “I am the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.” In Jesus who surrounds himself with the outcast, we see a God of solidarity and vulnerability. In Jesus, we meet a God who disturbs our comfort and pushes us out to the periphery to be with the least of his brothers and sisters.
For many, the Church today is like a flock of sheep scattered, disoriented, wounded, and hurt. There is also a sense of diminishment in terms of the Church’s moral stature in society. Yet, it is not time for defensiveness or despair. Rather, it is precisely in this time of humility that we must seek to rebuild, renew and reimagine. We do so by reclaiming not the former prestige and affluence, but the essential quality for Christian living and witness. Only by standing on the side of the powerless and the vulnerable, only by living authentically the call to poverty, simplicity, and humility can our voice be credible and our trust regained.
These last few days, some of you might have been aware of the media spotlight on our Diocese and on me personally. At issue is whether or not certain sensitive topics can be discussed in the classroom. Some have quickly made a judgment that our Catholic education system panders to dangerous ideology. I can assure you that we take all the vital questions of our culture seriously and reflect on them through the prism of Jesus’ solidarity with the marginalised.
We have nothing to fear from a respectful and intelligent dialogue with our sons and daughters, with our deeply committed teaching staff, and in a caring Catholic environment. Life can be complex. But the Church is not a cult that refuses to engage and challenge our contemporary culture. I believe when faced with a choice, we need to acknowledge and stand with those who are ostracised rather than consigning them to the margins of society.
“The stone rejected became the cornerstone”. This is the essence of our belief that Jesus became poor, lowly, and outcast in order to identify and lead us beyond our vulnerabilities. Hence our faith can never be personally redemptive without being socially responsible and justice-driven. May we be strengthened to walk the journey of faith and we may be leaven to the Kingdom through our active discipleship, witness, and engagement in the world.