Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the First Sunday of Advent in Year B 2017 at St Aidan’s Parish, Rooty Hill
3 December 2017
Advent is my favourite season. It is closely linked with the biblical exile. It speaks about hope in the midst of despair; it renews a sense of purpose and commitment in the midst of turmoil; it frames all of our human experience in God’s infinite horizons of love and salvation; it reminds us that God’s dream for humanity is growing towards fulfilment, notwithstanding all things to the contrary.
The reading from Isaiah today is particularly pertinent. Isaiah ministered during a very tumultuous time, which witnessed the destruction of the Temple and the long exile in Babylon. The people were devastated by these events and their faith was shaken to the core. Isaiah, though, was able to rise to the challenge. Amidst the overwhelming despair and disillusionment, he reminded the people of God’s dream to renew and reconcile all things. He would satisfy his people’s thirst for justice and hunger for integrity; he would bring about his dream of harmony and peace in place of war, brutality, injustice and division that the people experienced.
Isaiah called the people to faith in spite of their afflictions. He taught them that God’s plan for their destiny is being achieved through these traumatic times. He summoned their courage and invited them to look beyond their present predicament to the time of renewal and restoration. More importantly, he called them to commit themselves to working afresh for the realisation of God’s dream. The exile proved to be the most critical spiritual exodus.
Today, in the midst of many situations of seeming hopelessness, it is easy for us to be overwhelmed and numbed. We feel powerless and unable to make a difference to the lives of many suffering people. Yet, Isaiah reminds us that what is needed is the strength of faith and the power of love. When we are on the side of the poor, the vulnerable, the suffering people and when we stand in solidarity with those without hope and act together, we can be channels of hope. In opening our eyes and hearts to the sufferings of our world, hope can be awakened, a hope that allows us to see things from the perspective of God.
This was what Mary MacKillop did when she rallied her Sisters behind the poor and vulnerable in colonial Australia. She took a prophetic stance not simply in providing quality Catholic education and health care to the poor masses but fundamentally in meeting the great cultural challenges of their times. “Never see a need without doing something about it”. In acting out of a strong passion for the Kingdom and a visceral compassion for the suffering, she brought about a fresh hope for others. Like her, we are called to be channels of hope and to meet the challenges of our times.
In the Gospel, Jesus uses The Parable of the Faithful Servant, which is similar to The Parable of the Ten Virgins, to remind his disciples of the need to be alert. It is a kind of spiritual sensitivity and vigilance that allows us to discern God’s presence and action in the world and to make a faithful response to it. The parable stresses the element of waiting in the dark of night as a symbol of transition. The dark of night is a liminal interval, a time in which one stands between the old and the new. Yet we must learn to listen in silence and stillness. Liminal time is a time for mysticism and not activism. Our task is to live contemplatively the creative tension between the pain of the present and the hope of the future. Only then we can begin to discern and act according to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
In Advent, we are often reminded of a very potent symbol, the stump of Jesse. It refers to the remnant faithful of the exile from whom God would rebuild and restore the house of Israel. Perhaps it can be a fitting symbol for us as we undergo a certain pruning or even dying. We are called by John the Baptist to seek humility, repentance and conversion. As a Church, we must return to the core of the Gospel which is love, compassion, justice, and solidarity with the poor. It must return to its ancient role of being a refuge for the poor and an oasis for the oppressed.
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 focusing on that which matters the most. Advent, then, is a time we seek to nourish ourselves more deeply from the source of life and love. We are pruned and purified of the things that keep us from being true to our mission. We learn to live more simply and more truly. 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. May we like Mary, who submitted humbly and courageously to God at every turn in her strenuous journey help us to be his humble servants.