Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the First Sunday of Lent in Year B 2018 on Lunar New Year at St Monica’s Parish, North Parramatta
18 February 2018
With great joy and hope, we gather to celebrate today the beginning of the Lunar New Year. The Year of the Dog reminds us of the virtue of loyalty and companionship. We renew our commitment to build strong and healthy bonds of faith, family, friendship and community. Whether we are rich or poor, high or low, there is no true and lasting happiness for us without these sacred bonds nurtured and enriched each day. I take this opportunity to thank Fr Fernando for his pastoral care and leadership of the community in the last several years. I welcome Fr Ephraim as the new chaplain and wish him well in his time with us.
Without a doubt, the Church in Australia needs the witness of your faith. It faces daunting challenges both from within and from outside. As a matter of fact, all mainstream religions are doing it tough and Catholicism is no exception to the trend. Rarely a day goes by without some unfavourable headlines about the Catholic Church in Australia. Things have never been this testing for us who stay faithful.
Time and again in salvation history, God showed his trademark. He brought hope out of despair, new life out of death and destruction. He can use the insignificant to make great things. He can draw life out of apparent loss and hopelessness. He made a new beginning out of the flood. Out of the ashes of the exile, he brought about the new revitalised Israel; out of the ashes of the crucifixion, the resurrection; out of the ashes of the imperial persecution, the universal church. Watershed moments or times of great crisis can be catalysts for renewal and transformation.
The Word of God of this 1st Sunday in Lent also speaks of new beginnings and the need for deep discernment and courageous response rather than fear, intransigence and defence of status quo. Changes, even those which seem adverse, can be opportunities for positive engagement. This is what the reading from Genesis conveys to us. It is a message of hope and renewal in the time of uncertainty and even destruction. Noah is a true leader who is able to anticipate what is around the bend and act decisively and prophetically while everyone else is oblivious to the signs of the times. He is able to see changes in the perspective of God and leads the people in the direction of the Kingdom. His leadership enables the people to flourish again.
The Gospel tells us of the new beginning for Jesus. After his time of intense discernment in the wilderness, he emerges with a renewed focus and a sense of mission. John’s arrest should have served as a warning to him. Yet instead, it is a catalyst for Jesus’ full immersion into a life of service and witness. It marks a break with the past and a launch into the future. Like Noah, Jesus is able to see everything in the perspective of God. He proclaims the coming of the Kingdom and acts decisively in favour of the Kingdom.
We can see something of the prophetic seeing, judging and acting in Pope Francis. He has seen the writing on the wall for the Church and has called us to the whole new way of living the Gospel which will correspond with the signs of the times and the needs of the people. Instead of holding on to the status quo with a business as usual attitude, he leads us in a spirit of deep conversion. There is something refreshingly new about his modus operandi: from domination to partnership, from clericalism to service, from self-reference to openness, from Baroque splendour to simplicity, from triumphalism to humility, from top down obedience to collegiality and collaboration, from siege mentality to engagement, from confronting to listening, from culture warfare to dialogue, from imposing rules to accompanying with love.
Brothers and sisters,
As a Church, we are called to die and rise again. We are being led from a position of power and strength to that of powerlessness and vulnerability; from a position of wealth and influence to that of being poor and humble; from a position of greatness to being a minority. It can be daunting and disconcerting. But like Noah, we can be confident that God will renew us as he renewed the people after the great flood. Even the example of Jesus should serve to remind us of the necessity of being led by the Spirit into the wilderness so that we can emerge focussed, renewed and strengthened in our identity and mission as his followers.
We are filled with gratitude to God for bringing us to this new year. May we be strengthened to walk the journey of faith knowing that God accompanies us and renews us even through trying times. Let us pray that we may be leaven to the Kingdom through our active discipleship, witness and engagement in the world.