Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year A 2017 with the Rite of Candidacy to Holy Orders at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
25 June 2017
We live in a time of change, diminishment and uncertainty for the Church. The Royal Commission is a threshold moment of profound significance. In many ways, it marks the passing of the old and emergence of the new. We mourn the loss of many things: wealth, status, power as well as vitality, strength and credibility. But we are hopeful of a new beginning: the Church that is poor, humble –or in the words of Pope Francis- wounded and bruised but more aligned to the radical vision of Christ. After all, it is not about numbers but more about the quality of our witness and discipleship. Hence, this time can be a blessing in disguise as it makes us less reliant on ourselves but on the power of God. Ours is not a time for cynicism or nostalgia, not a time to take refuge in the triumphalism of the past or to throw the baby out with the water. It is a time for deepening of commitment, for grounding our identity and nurturing our mission.
Scripture this Sunday speaks of adversity and how to respond as a believer. In the first reading, Jeremiah reflects on the costs of being God’s faithful mouthpiece. He tells us of the hurt and pain he experiences as a result of his prophetic mission. “I hear so many disparaging me… All those who used to be my friends watched for my downfall”. No wonder Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet. He had such a hard time. He was attacked by his own brothers, imprisoned by the king, put into the stocks by the temple priests and thrown into a cistern by the court officials. But the truth of the matter is that there is always a price for authentic witness. We cannot take a countercultural and prophetic stance, like Jeremiah did, and avoid the cost of that stance. Jeremiah shows us that authentic faith makes us fearless and not fearful in the face of hardship and persecution. It empowers us to live more generously, more trustfully and yet more bravely.
This is also the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel. “Do not be afraid” is the message that should reverberate in the hearts of the disciples as they embark on the journey of proclamation, communion and mission. Yet it is not a kind of arrogant, self-righteous and superior attitude that dismisses those who do not agree with us. Such an attitude smacks of triumphalism which is not the way of the humble and suffering Servant of God Jesus. It would be counter-productive in an age of pluralism and secularisation. Rather, Jesus’ words “do not be afraid” in this context carries a command to avoid seeking a safe harbour and an self made comfort zone. True faith makes us resolute and daring. Trusting faith in God doesn’t lead the believer to escape one’s responsibility in the face of problems. It doesn’t lead us to flee conflicts in order to close ourselves comfortably in isolation.
Today, we induct these brothers, our seminarians into the formal journey to ordination. Candidacy should not be misconstrued as a rung on the ladder to clerical power. 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. Actually, the priesthood might be considered an upward mobility in some societies. In post-Royal Commission Australia, it is more like a downward mobility. The mystique and social stature of the priesthood have all but disappeared. My neighbor had visitors from Vietnam and they were shocked to see a bishop in his shorts, trimming the hedgerows in front of the house.
This week, Australia also celebrates Refugee Week, which reminds us of the great suffering of the millions of refugees around the world. As Christians, we cannot remain indifferent. We cannot be his disciples if we ignore the plight of the marginalized and the vulnerable. We cannot be salt and leaven if we allow our Christian conscience to be desensitized by the inequality, injustice and inhumanity in our society and in the world.
As a former refugee, I remember with gratitude and pride how Australia rose to the challenge and welcomed an unprecedented number of Asian refugees not long after the abolition of the White Australia policy. And it has not done too badly since. Australia has been transformed with each successive wave of new arrivals. Our country is what it is today because of the rich diversity that migrants and refugees contribute. We can even make it greater by our concern and care for refugees in the spirit of compassion and solidarity that has marked the history of our country from its beginning.
Brothers and sisters! Let us pray for these young men as they embark upon the journey of transformation into Christ, the humble servant leader. May they grow in their commitment to live more generously, more trustfully and yet more bravely. Let all of us be not afraid as we seek to share the Good News and to take a prophetic stance in relation to many cultural issues facing us. May our endeavour to replace the culture of fear and indifference with that of encounter and acceptance be brought to fulfillment in accordance with God’s vision of the fullness of life for all humanity.
View photos from the Mass including Rite of Candidacy here.