Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily at Solemn Pontifical Mass for Ash Wednesday with Launch of Project Compassion in Year B 2018 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
14 February 2018
Dear brothers and sisters,
With the celebration of Ash Wednesday, we begin a season of Lent which is meant to be a journey of renewal and transformation. Lent invites us to live the wilderness experience of Jesus, to walk the same long and hard road with him to Jerusalem and to embrace a discipleship of humility, weakness and vulnerability. The 40 days of Lent also remind us of the 40 years that God’s people wandered in the wilderness. It was a challenging but transformative journey. For they were purified and cleansed of all that was unworthy of God. They grew not only in their understanding of who God was but also what it meant to be his people. The 40 years in the wilderness helped them live as a more humble, patient and faithful people.
We too need to be cleansed and purified of all that is unworthy of Christ and his Gospel. We seek to be cleansed of all those things that hold us back, that prevent us from growing to full maturity in Christ. Our spiritual exodus is a journey away from all that is alienating within us into that freedom within which we discover our real selves.
“Let your hearts be broken and not your garments torn”. The prophet Joel insists that the outward signs must be accompanied by a real interior renewal. A change of heart, a change of attitude, a change in the way we relate to one another. As the community of faith, we must have the courage to see how far we have strayed from the core values of the Gospel and to face up to the task of metanoia, that is, repenting of our sins and converting to the person and message of Christ.
This Lenten season is an opportunity for the whole church to critique and dismantle attitudes and behaviours that are not aligned with the Gospel. The Royal Commission has been a threshold moment and a transition point of profound significance for the Church in this country. What is required for the church to rid itself of the institutional pathology moving forward is not simply to treat the symptoms. Above all, we need to put the powerlessness and the divine pathos of the humble Servant Jesus front and centre. As a Church, we cannot move forward until we have fully embraced Christ’s radical call to abandon the culture of privilege, self-interest and security in favour of the wholesome relational discipleship.
“Do not parade your good deeds in order to attract attention to yourself”. This is a stern warning against hypocrisy and double standards. Jesus challenges us to practice a holiness that has to do with integrity, love and service, the kind of holiness that touches the depth of who we are and connects us with the humanity of one another.
The focus of Lent is not to give up certain things, to give away our surpluses and then to feel good about ourselves. Pope Francis says “I distrust the charity that costs nothing and doesn’t hurt”. Instead, he appeals to us to imitate Christ who became poor to make us rich. That means we have to live every day the self-emptying love of Christ. It is this divine compassion that makes us give not only our resources but our very selves. This is how, as St Paul says in the second reading, we can become ambassadors for Christ.
Project Compassion is about us becoming ambassadors for Christ. It is a means through which we express our communion, show solidarity and above all share the Good News of Christ’s love to our brothers and sisters in need. This year, the focus is to empower young people to lead their communities to a better, just, future. We stand in solidary with young people living in poverty by giving alms to create real change. Let us through our support of Caritas Australia walk alongside those whose lives are threatened by poverty, conflict and injustice, and enable them to attain a life full of human dignity.
Let us reclaim the Church as a refuge for the poor, an oasis for the weary and a hospital for the wounded. May we through the discipline of prayer, fasting and almsgiving acquire a new heart and a new spirit. Then, like the people of the covenant, we too shall emerge revitalised and become the sacrament of God’s compassion and care for the least and the last. May we be nurtured by the love of God and persevere in our journey from death to life.