Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for Mass for Ministers of the Church with the Rite of Institution of Acolytes at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
13 June 2017
It is a great joy and privilege for me to institute these candidates for the ministry of acolyte. This is essentially a ministry of the altar. Their function is to administer the Lord’s body and blood in the liturgical assembly. But they are also to carry him sacramentally to the sick and the weak. They are to manifest the love and presence of God to their brothers and sisters in a particular way befitting their intimacy with Christ’s body and blood, which they serve at the altar.
The Scriptures we have heard proclaimed this evening guide us in our reflection on this ministry and indeed on our duty of Christian service. The reading from Exodus tells the story of God’s people complaining against Moses as they face hunger and thirst in the wilderness. They want to return to Egypt rather than walking into the great unknown and uncertain future that the Exodus beckons. How easy it is for us to do the same when faced with the chaos of transition and the uncertainty of changing times. And yet, we ministers and leaders must have faith and courage to show the way forward, just as Moses did for the people of God. After the manna had rained down, the children of Israel were confused and asked “what is that?” It was Moses who pointed out to them that the manna was God’s gift to sustain them for the journey. The Church today also needs ministers and leaders who help others to find sustenance for their journey of faith.
In the story of the loaves and fishes, there was also the sense of fear and apprehension. When confronted with a critical situation, they reacted in the same way the people of God did in the wilderness. They wanted to dismiss the crowd and avoid the responsibility of meeting the need. “Send the people away,” they pleaded with Jesus. They were overwhelmed with fear. It was Jesus who showed the way forward by acting with courage and imagination. He challenged the disciples to “Give them something to eat yourselves”. He told them to start doing the possible rather than fearing the impossible. It was by concrete practical actions of solidarity and sharing that they were able to change a harsh reality into celebration of hope.
As ministers of the altar, Jesus’s words to his disciples in the Gospel are especially patient to you. “Give them something to eat yourselves” is the command to draw people to the heart and summit of Christian worship. You do this not by dwelling on the secondary things like the alb you wear, the candles you hold or even the external things pertaining to your office. More importantly, the command is fulfilled in the way you give Eucharistic love to others, in the way you minister with Christ like humility, dedication and pathos.
Even since Pope Francis came onto the scene, he challenges us to be humble servants of the Gospel. He challenges us not to be preoccupied with our interests, security and needs only. We must go to those one the margins and be the voice of love and compassion. We must be less of an enclosure for the virtuous but more an oasis for the weary and downtrodden. We must be less of an experience of exclusion and more of an encounter of radical love, inclusiveness and solidarity. Only by a discipleship of humble service and true love we can be the sign, the sacrament, of God’s love for the world.
The life of the disciple is about learning from the master. Jesus had the ability to engage with all kinds of people and handle the stickiest of situations. That’s because he was a spirit-filled person. The love of God permeated his whole person and character. His word, gesture and deed were shot through with the fullness of divinity. So everyone who came to him experienced something of God’s love and power. That is also our objective as his disciples. May we live and work in a way that conveys something of God’s love and power to the people.
I wish to acknowledge the spirit of Christian’s service which you seek to carry out in humanity, patience and love. They say the proof of the pudding is in the eating. After all that is said and done, the quality of our discipleship must shine through. We must be able to imbue God’s abundant love and all-embracing presence. We pray that you may be ambassadors of God’s mercy and the faces of the Church that we believe in.
Let us pray that as a community of disciples, we learn to be humble servants of one another. May the example of Christ who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for the others inspire us to be servants of one another, especially the least of our brothers and sisters.