Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for Mass of Thursday of the Third Week of Advent with Ministry, Agency and Chancery Staff for the conclusion of the year at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
14 December 2017
Dear brothers and sisters,
It is great for us to be here, to give thanks to the Lord for what we’ve been able to achieve this year and to renew our commitment to serve the body of Christ. You are not merely workers of a big business organisation. In your own way, you are part of the mission of the Church in supporting, empowering and caring for one another and especially those in need.
The Church is first and foremost a presence. It is a sacrament of God’s presence that gathers and draws people together. It reflects something of God’s unconditional and unlimited love to them. It creates, nurtures, heals, restores and prospers communities and relationships. The Church is never meant to be just a business provider.
The life of Jesus does not consist of merely doing good deeds to others; but it is an expression of the divine pathos. People experienced in their encounters with Jesus not simply a humanitarian gesture but also a glimpse of God’s unconditional and unlimited love. Pope Francis spoke about the temptation of the Church to become a compassionate non-governmental organisation. This happens when despite doing work in the name of the Church or in the name of God, we fail to convey the love and presence of God. In fact, our boast of being the largest non-government provider of charity, health care and education can ring hollow if we fail the test of being an authentic presence of God in our relationships and engagements with others, especially the poor, the needy and those marginalised by society.
The Word of God today speaks about the divine pathos for the down trodden. In the first reading, Isaiah comforts the exiles with a message of renewal and restoration. “Do not be afraid, Jacob, poor worm, Israel, puny mite” because God will enable you to “crush the mountains and turn the hills to chaff”. Isaiah knows how the exiles have been reduced to utter powerlessness. They have been the victims of their oppressors’ might and power. In that moment of utter vulnerability, the prophet helps the people to gain a new insight into what it means to be God’s people. Their faith relationship grows beyond the confines of physical symbols of land, temple and rituals into new horizons of love, compassion and justice. It was with the latter that they would rebuild Israel.
The Gospel invites us to reflect on being the worker of the Kingdom, especially when the fulfilment of that Kingdom is far from our sight. Already, when John sent his disciples to inquire of Jesus whether he was the Messiah, the answer he gave was to tell John what they had witnessed: The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk and the dead raised. This was a reference to the Messianic Kingdom and John needed to be reassured of its final outcome despite his efforts being thwarted. In today’s episode, Jesus comments on John after his disciples have left. “Of all the children born of women, a greater than John has never been seen; yet the least in the Kingdom is greater than he is”. Here Jesus is not making a point about John so much as he is making a point about the significance of being included in the Kingdom. Both Jesus and John suffer for preaching and carrying out the works of the Kingdom. The Gospel today calls us to do the same, in spite of the price we have to pay for the sake of the Kingdom.
Come to think of it, the Church in Australia post-Royal Commission is not unlike the Jewish temple in ruins. We feel a deep sense of loss and despair as we witness the seemingly irreversible demise. However, just as the exiles were able to rebuild the new Israel with insights gained, we too can rebuild the Church with the power of our humbled and yet revitalised faith.
Let us endeavour to serve and to contribute to the Church in Parramatta being a more authentic sign of the kingdom. May all that we do and all that we are in our lives and relationships reflect the call to be sign of light, hope and joy to the Church and the people of our time.