Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily at Solemn Pontifical Mass during the Night of the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord in Year C 2018 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
25 December 2018
Dear brothers and sisters,
Some of you might have experienced a feeling of profound happiness, of being overcome with joy. It might have been a birth of a child after years of waiting. It might have been a screening test that showed no more traces of cancer after a lengthy and debilitating battle.
I remember hearing my name on the list of resettlement in Australia. I had been in the refugee camp for 15 months in Malaysia and my hope to be reunited with my siblings in Holland had been dashed. Most of my friends had left for a third country and I was not a happy Vegemite. Actually, I was fearful of the future. Then, the news came through the PA system of the camp and I was overcome with joy.
Tonight, we are told that the shepherds were also overcome with amazement and joy. “I bring you news of great joy”, the angel said to them, “a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in the town of David, a Saviour has been born to you”. With this announcement, a new dawn had arrived for them, for humanity and indeed for the whole of creation.
One cannot live and flourish in a circumstance of war, oppression, persecution, environmental degradation, or of perpetual devaluation of one’s humanity; one can only survive at best. The birth of Jesus was seen as the triumph of divine justice, love and peace. In him, God has come to restore all things. In him, the alternative universe of compassion, equality and brotherhood to the unjust, corrupt and unsustainable status quo is indeed possible. One can begin to dare to live again and flourish!
The story of the incarnation opens us to the dawn of this new era of God’s justice, love and compassion in Christ. It exposes the false values that underpin the culture of domination, exclusion, control and consumption. Power corrupts; consumerism and the relentless pursuit of progress, profit, and success have a numbing effect on empathy, justice, and faith. This was as evident in the time of Caesar Augustus as it is in our own time.
In fact, there is a greater need for reconciliation, social justice and peace now than ever, including the need for the reconciliation with Mother Earth. The endless plundering of her resources without urgent ecological conversion, as Pope Francis warns, “will leave future generations only rubble, deserts and refuse”.
Today’s sociopolitical realities move us to grief and lament. We grieve in solidarity with the millions of refugees in our world today, including the West Papuans on our doorstep. We grieve for the asylum seekers in Nauru and Manus Island, who have been treated with brutality by the policy of our elected leaders; for the victims of the latest tsunami in Indonesia and of climate change caused in part by our unbridled consumerism; for the homeless poor in our own increasingly un-egalitarian society; for the plight of our Indigenous that is far from our founding dream of Australia fair.
But at the same time, we can also hope passionately, and in amazement and joy express the values of the vision of the alternative world, the Kingdom that Jesus came to inaugurate. The shepherds praised the establishment of peace and wellbeing as indicated by the birth of Christ. We must do the same. We must imagine and work passionately towards the new dawn for humanity, which was announced at the first Christmas. We must learn to forge a new society of solidarity, compassion and justice as opposed to the dystopia of exploitation, inhospitality and exclusion.
Brothers and sisters,
It is difficult, indeed hypocritical, to speak of influencing the secular culture with the values of the Gospel when those same values do not underpin the Church culture. Therefore, it is not time for us to seek to return to our once safe and privileged world of the past.
We must have the courage in aligning the Church culture and praxis to the radical humility, simplicity, powerlessness and inclusivity demonstrated in the mystery of the God-made-flesh. In the light of the God who identified with the poor, powerless, rejected, persecuted and condemned, the Church needs to do what Pope Francis challenges us: go to the periphery, to be the presence of God for the poor and marginalised. We must be less about a leadership of power, control and clericalism but more of a humble service, an encounter of radical love, inclusiveness and solidarity.
Tonight we marvel at the mystery of divine humility and vulnerability shown in the helpless infant Jesus. Like the people who walked in darkness, we have too have seen a great light.
Let us rejoice but let us also live the spirit of Christmas. May we be so inspired by God’s radical embrace that we can show the alternative pathway of hope, inclusion and sustainability through shared humanity against the dystopia future of fear and despair.
Then, we will experience the true joy which comes from him who is our Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counsellor and Mighty God.