Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent with the Rite of Admission to Candidacy to Holy Orders of Mr Jessie Balorio in Year B 2017 at Sacred Heart Parish, Luddenham-Warragamba
10 December 2017
There are times described as watershed moments which change things for ever. It may be political history like the storming of Bastille at the French Revolution, the Fall of Saigon. It may also be personal like the discovery of a terminal illness on the part of your loved one, the arrival of a child or a permanent separation. We have all experienced these moments in varying degrees. My boat journey as a refugee was one of these dramatic times and it would be an understatement to say that it precipitated a profound change in me.
The Word of God today speaks about this theme of changing times and the opportunity to experience the grace of God. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah speaks of the imminent return of his people to their homeland. They have been in exile for over 50 years in Babylon. Their faith, hope and trust in God have been put to the test. In fact, many have simply abandoned the traditional belief in the God who would always care for them, protect them and rescue them from danger. Like the other leading prophets of the exile, Isaiah calls the people to faith in spite of their afflictions. He teaches them that God’s plan for their destiny is being achieved through these traumatic times. He summons their courage and invites them to look beyond their present predicament to the time of renewal and restoration. The time of exile will end. God will gather his scattered people like a shepherd gathers his lambs. Be prepared for the manifestation of God’s saving power.
The Gospel tells us about the ministry of John the Baptist, an eccentric who lived in a no man’s land and survived on the strange diet of locusts and honey. Yet, it is John the Baptist, the lone voice in the wilderness who speaks God’s word of truth, justice and love. John’s message is like that of the whistleblower. It reveals the uncomfortable truths; it challenges not only the rulers, the emperors and high priests. It also challenges us to look at ourselves and discover those uncomfortable truths that we hide behind our appearances.
What are these uncomfortable truths that we need to own up and deal with? What are the valleys that have to be filled in; winding ways that have to be straightened and rough roads be made smooth? John sounds a warning; he blows a whistle to awake our consciences. He questions the status quo; he challenges the system; he calls us individually to remove the obstacles and barriers that stand in the way of Christ’s coming. Let us accept his challenge to conversion and renewal with humility.
Therein lies the lesson for us who are living in the time of change and crisis in the Church. There is a real sense that the watershed moment has arrived for us Catholics, perhaps thanks to the sexual abuse crisis, the national Royal Commission and the spotlight that shines on the darker side of the Church. We are being made a laughing stock and priests in particular are feeling the impact of constant negative publicity.
As a Church, we are being led to this moment of trial and tribulation. Perhaps not unlike Peter who was told by the risen Lord that he would be led to a place he’d rather not go. But as Peter learned to walk the uncharted road of chaos in faith, hope and love, so must we learn to walk humbly and trustingly in this valley of darkness before us. As Peter learned to let go of the old way of power and ambition, so must we be prepared to be stripped of our encumbrances. Then we can be confident that God will bring good out of evil as he has done unfailingly in salvation history.
Today, we induct Jessie Balorio, our seminarian, into the formal journey to ordination. Candidacy should not be misconstrued as a rung on the ladder to clerical power. That kind of notion of ordination is in fact a travesty of Christian leadership and service. To enter any form of Christian ministry is not to commit oneself to a life of comfort, social prestige and power. Quite the opposite is the case. It is a commitment to self-sacrifice, humble service and servant leadership. It is to follow the example of Christ who came not to be served but to serve.
Advent is a time of reflection, a kind of spiritual wilderness in which John lived and Jesus himself was led by the Spirit of God at the beginning of his public ministry. It is a time of extricating oneself from the unnecessary trappings of life and focussing on that which matters the most. Advent then is a kind of self-exile for us as we seek to nourish ourselves more deeply from the source of life and love. Let us pray that out of this time of affliction, God will bring about his plan for us and for his church. May we become a more authentic sign of his presence and love in the world.