Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year A 2017 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
19 November 2017
Brothers and Sisters,
We live in a time where there is a tendency on the part of many countries to focus on their domestic interests and affairs at the expense of a more responsible global citizenship. We see this in the post-American election, Brexit and in our own country, especially in respect of its shrinking overseas aid budget. We see this tendency also in the way many countries reacted to the refugee crisis in Syria and beyond. The fear of the other seems to be a powerful factor which leads many to withdraw from active solidarity to the safety of their own borders, individually and collectively.
Yet one of the strongest features of the Gospel is precisely the call to overcome fears and to take necessary risks for the sake of the Kingdom. Jesus consistently teaches and embodies this message in the way he engages with others. He is a true boundary breaker who constantly goes beyond the borders of every kind and affirms the humanity of all. In so doing, he invites us to step beyond our fears and to live life to the full by being all that we are capable of being for others.
The parable of the talents reinforces this fundamental message. It is about stepping outside our secure, comfortable and insular world and engaging with others in active solidarity. It is about using the gifts we have been entrusted with for the common good. This parable insists that watchfulness for fulfilment of the Kingdom must not lead to passivity, but to doing one’s God-given duties. We must be learning, growing, carrying out our responsibilities and developing the resources that God entrusts to us until He returns and settles accounts.
The two servants who have multiplied their given talents are commended for their stewardship. But the third is reprimanded because he has not produced the expected results. He is like the rich young man who goes away despondent because he cannot part with his possessions. He has chosen his safety and self-interest and refused to reach for higher goals. He is like that older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. His being a good son is only a facade. Scratch the surface and we find a stifled, stagnated and small-hearted person. He fails the test of faithful discipleship.
Pope Francis encourages us to live our Christian life with vulnerable trust. For him, it has little to do with doing the minimum, with complacency and mediocrity. In fact, it has everything to do with taking risks and living with enthusiasm and commitment. We should not be content with status quo, especially when that status quo is less than what God wants for us as individuals and as a community. If one can detect the direction of Pope Francis’ pontificate, it has something to do with the movement from security to boldness, from inward looking to outward looking, from preoccupation with our status quo, safeguarding our privileges to learning to be vulnerable, learning to convey God’s compassion to those who are on the edges of society and Church.
The message of the parable essentially says that we cannot be the disciple of Jesus and stay put or play it safe like the third servant. Discipleship is a journey that demands courage because it forces us to abandon security in favour of vulnerability, self-interest in favour of passion for justice and compassion for God’s poor.
Today is also the World Day for the Poor, which Pope Francis is calling on us to observe with concrete actions. He reminds us that service to the poor is an imperative that no Christian may disregard. He says “If we truly wish to encounter Christ, we have to touch his body in the suffering bodies of the poor, as a response to the sacramental communion bestowed in the Eucharist”. In effect, serving the poor is Eucharistic. The Pope continues: “The Body of Christ, broken in the sacred liturgy, can be seen, through charity and sharing, in the faces and persons of the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters.”
In our Diocese, Catholic organisations like CatholicCare, the House of Welcome, Chisholm Cottage, St Vinnies etc, are actively carrying out the works of mercy on our behalf. We may do well to support them or indeed to share their ministry of service to the poor. But each of us is also challenged to encounter and engage with them in a way that is transformative. When we conquer our fear of the other — of their difference, of their dirt, of the hardness of their lives, of the way their very presence convicts us of complicity in a materialistic world – we enter into deeper human solidarity. We encounter Christ as he can be encountered in no other way.
Brothers and sisters,
As we share in the Eucharist, the sign and reality of God broken and poured for the love of the world, let us be empowered to offer ourselves. Let us also be broken and poured for the love of the poor. May we be like those faithful servants who are invited to “come and join in the master’s happiness.”