Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for Annual Mass of Thanksgiving with all Diocesan Agency, Ministry and Chancery Staff at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
Readings: Isaiah 48:17-19; Matthew 11:16-19
14 December 2018
Today, we gather to give thanks to God for the grace of being able to contribute to the mission of the Church in Western Sydney, to make a difference to the people to whom we are called to served in a variety of ministries.
I want to say thank you for the tasks you have carried out, whether they were simple or complex, big or small, seen or unseen.
I want to acknowledge the way in which you have endeavoured to share the Good News.
The Church as a body of Christ can function and grow only if the various parts work together in harmony. In your own ways, you are part of the mission of the Church in supporting, empowering and serving for one another and especially those under our care.
The Church as an institution is often seen as a big corporate entity with the trappings of wealth, resources and influence. This instituional and corporate Church has been accused of lacking compassion and even acting with hypocrisy, especially in relation to victims of sexual abuse.
In the spirit of humility and repentance, we need to focus our attention squarely on how we follow the compassionate Jesus and how authentic we are in being the sacrament of God’s compassion and care for the least and the last. Our boast of being the largest non-government provider of charity, health care and education may ring hollow if we fail the test of being an authentic presence of God.
The Church is first and foremost a presence, an oasis of hope and a field hospital according to Pope Francis. It is meant to be recognised by the way its members love and care for one another.
It is never meant to be just a business provider, even if in the eyes of many, it may look like a business and adopt business practices.
The Word of God today challenges us to be alert to the signs of the times and to discern and act in a way that is aligned to God’s plan and purpose for us. In other words, we must not settle into complacency and forget our task of transforming the world according to the divine mandate.
In the words of Pope Francis, we must not retreat into a self-referential bubble or self-maintenance mode, but accompany one another and fellow pilgrims whoever they are on the journey of life and love.
In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah reminds the people that they should be faithful to the covenant despite the pressure to conform to the imperial ideology.
The Israelites had been living in exile in Babylon and their identity as a covenanted people had come under threat both from within and from without. They were tempted to forget and abandon the treasured memory of their exodus ancestors and the summons to be God’s people of freedom, fraternity and equality.
It was much easier to accept the status quo of the Babylonian empire than to dream of the alternative divinely inspired society and work towards it.
Calling Israel to their task was what Isaiah did, precisely. He challenged them to be alert to the commandments, meaning to live by the covenant even though the environment had become foreign and hostile to them. It is a summons for believers to live their identity much more intentionally and authentically.
This summons is ever so relevant for us as we too find ourselves in our spiritual exile and the ground under our feet has shifted.
In the Gospel, Jesus lamented the apathy and indifference of the people, especially the religious leaders of his time. In fact, he had encountered much opposition and rejection, particularly from the scribes and Pharisees. They had not responded to either the penitential message of John or his own.
Jesus thus called out their failure to listen and act according to God’s invitation. “We played the pipe and you did not dance; we sang a dirge and you did not mourn.” In contrast, it was the poor, the gentiles, the unclean, the tax collectors and sinners who are more open and receptive to his message.
Jesus’ critique of the privileged for their hardheartedness and self-preservation is still relevant for us today. One is reminded of the young Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai who called out the way we as a country treat asylum seekers. On her visit here, she challenged us to be true to our tradition of Australia fair.
Jesus likewise prods at our sense of entitlement and our claim to what is ours at the exclusion of others. He challenges to think and act in the way that is based on the justice of the Kingdom and the gratuity of God’s love.
Brothers and sisters,
Let us pray that we can be beacons of light and hope by way of our discipleship of mission and service. Let us pray that as a community of disciples, we learn to be humble servants of one another.
Let us endeavour to serve and to contribute to the Church in Parramatta being a more authentic sign of the Kingdom.
May all that we do and all that we are in our lives and relationships reflect the call to be a sign of light, hope and joy to the Church and the people of our time.