Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Memorial of St Marcellin Champagnat on the occasion of Champagnat Day at Parramatta Marist High, Westmead
6 June 2017
We live in a competitive world that reckons value in numbers and measures its mark by its size. Frequently, we are seduced by the idea that the bigger, stronger, is the better and that success and power, trump failure and weakness. For proof of this seduction, think no further than the clever slogan “Make America Great Again”. The idea that greatness has to do with being stronger and more powerful obviously appeals to a lot of people. But if we are the people who are guided not by popular culture or the tyranny of the majority but by the teaching and example of Jesus, we need to know a thing or two about powerlessness, smallness and weakness.
The bigger the better mentality is the antithesis of the Gospel. Frequently, when Jesus talks about the kingdom of God, he challenges and subverts our idea of greatness. The kingdom according to him does not manifest itself in size, in success and in power. Instead, it is found in the smallness of the mustard seed, in in the poverty of the widow’s mite, in the rarity of the pearl or in the insignificance of the yeast. These images are essentially counter-cultural. In other words, they challenge the prevalent attitude about greatness, success and power. Jesus teaches something quite radical through these parables. He teaches that in God’s scheme of things, it is a life of faith, hope and love lived in humbleness and powerlessness that matters above all else.
This is also evident in the Gospel story we have just listened to. The disciples came to Jesus with the question “who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” It was no small issue for them since in their minds, Jesus was going to Jerusalem to be crowned the king and they would share in his royal power. It was a mistaken idea of Jesus’ mission and a mistaken idea of what it meant to be his disciple.
This is why Jesus so dramatically showed them what greatness was. He set a child in front of them and told them: “The one who makes himself as little as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
It might not strike us as dramatic, but a child in the time of Jesus did not count. In the age of high infant mortality, he or she was of little significance, totally vulnerable and powerless. In encouraging his disciples to become childlike, Jesus teaches them not to seek status, honour, power and glory. Instead, they must learn to be the least and the servant. They must learn to be faithful and humble servants. That is the essence of Christian discipleship.
Dear friends at Marist High,
Jesus is challenging our value system today. Are we seeking power and glory, success and achievement, popularity and recognition that the world seduces us? Or are we following the road less travelled, the way that Jesus taught and walked before us, which is essentially the way of self-giving love, the way that enables us to serve and to make a difference to the lives of others?
Today, we honour St Marcellin Champagnat, who as a young man like you had his share of challenges. He was poor and not gifted academically. However, what he did not lack was a strong will to make good of his shortcomings and to help others. His childhood struggles led him to have empathy and compassion for the young. He founded the Little Brothers of Mary or the Marist Brothers Institute in order to educate and form children of the poor into responsible Christian adults.
Marcellin did not give in to the prevailing cultural mindset. He was firmly guided by the teaching and example of Jesus. He and other religious leaders like him took a prophetic stance not simply in providing affordable quality education to the poor masses but fundamentally in meeting the great cultural challenges of their times. They were pioneers and trailblazers rather than tail-lights in leading their people in the fight against poverty and injustice. They were driven by the Kingdom Vision of Jesus and his example of accompanying people towards that vision.
As we honour Marcellin and the Marist pioneers who put his vision into practice right here in Parramatta, let us resolve to live by the Kingdom Vision of Jesus. Let us discern, choose and act rightly. Let us above all endeavor to be faithful and humble servants of one another. May this celebration serve to remind us of our commitment to the vision of Jesus which is to build God’s Kingdom on right relationships, peace, justice and love. Let us go forward in our mission to make a difference in the world, confident of the victory of Christ and the friendship of the Holy Spirit. May we grow in our authentic discipleship, in our service and in our capacity to be the Kingdom builders.