Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily at the Vigil Mass for the Third Sunday of Advent in Year A 2019 at St Mary of the Cross MacKillop Parish, Upper Blue Mountains
Readings: Isaiah 35:1-6; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11
14 December 2019
The way of God: Rebirth through brokenness
“Let the wilderness and the dry-lands exult; let the wasteland rejoice and bloom. Look, your God is coming. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened; for those the Lord has ransomed shall return.”
These words are extraordinary prophetic utterance in the midst of profound disruption in Israel’s history. The capture of Jerusalem and the subsequent destruction of the Temple as well as the exile constituted the worst crisis that the people of God had yet to face. But against the background of loss and hopelessness, of shame and humiliation, Isaiah speaks of God’s life-changing action that summons the people to a new future. Indeed, their brokenness becomes the venue for new possibility because of his transforming power.
The Church in Australia is also facing a disruption of biblical proportions. The Royal Commission, coupled with the incarceration of Cardinal George Pell, created something like “ground zero” for us. This disruption calls for deep discernment, humble conversion and courageous action rather than fear or business-as-usual attitude. Like the ancient disruption, this unprecedented crisis can catalyse the Church into a new era of hope and possibility. Out of our “ground zero”, like a phoenix the Church can rise again with a new life.
Scriptures this Sunday provide us with a valuable lesson of finding hope in despair, discovering strength in vulnerability and discerning God’s way in the unexpected. We are called to be the faithful remnants or the anawim in the face of displacement, alienation and loss. Despite the challenges facing us in the post-Royal Commission society, we must not lose sight of the Gospel values of love, compassion, inclusion and justice.
In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah speaks to his people during one of the darkest times of their collective history. He reframes their hopelessness with a vision of rebirth. He reassures them that God will reveal his glory and splendour. The Messianic Age will be fulfilled with the eyes of the blind opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed, the lame, walk and the ransomed, return. It is a way of saying that God favours those who are faithful despite their afflictions. The faithful exiles will inherit the Messianic blessings or the beatitudes.
The Gospel also speaks of these same Messianic blessings in the ministry of Jesus. To begin with, we are told that John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus and asked him if he was the Messiah (!). John had told people the axe was lying at the root, ready to chop down the unworthy trees. He had promised the chaff would burn with unquenchable fire. But Jesus didn’t seem to be doing much slashing and burning.
Instead, he was performing the Messianic deeds that Isaiah foretold. John, his disciples and indeed all who want to follow Christ need to discern God’s way beyond their own expectations. Indeed, just as John was imprisoned and died, Jesus too, would witness to the Kingdom by his own death on the cross. God’s way challenges our way of what it means to follow him.
Like the Jewish people in exile we are unable to see what lies beyond the crippling crisis. We might be like John who had doubts about the coming of the Messiah even though he had risked everything for it. What the Word of God tells us today is summarised in St James’ words “Do not lose heart”. Instead we must persevere in humble and faithful discipleship, following Christ who proved his Messiahship by selfless service to God’s little ones.
We might also have our moments of doubt and despair as a result of tragedies, failures and disappointments of a more personal nature. We are called to be formed and transformed through them. Much of the transforming power of our faith is lost when we have grown too comfortable with it. We must hear again and again the call to be faithful, to expand our vision, to stretch our horizons, to challenge our old habits and to go the way that God wants for us.
Let us pray that out of this time of affliction, God will bring about his plan for us and for his Church. The sexual abuse crisis might be a source of scandal and disillusionment for us. But in the light of God’s Word today, it might just be a catalyst for renewal and transformation.
Indeed, this can be a Kairos moment through which the Church might become smaller, poorer and humbler but hopefully more of a light and a sacrament of God’s love to the world. The brokenness of the exile and our brokenness today have one thing in common: it can be a venue for rebirth and new possibility. May we by our faithful and courageous discipleship facilitate that rebirth. May we prove our belonging to Christ by way of our service to the least of his brothers and sisters in the same way that he proved his Messiahship.
Then we can sing with the exiles: Joy will go with us and everlasting gladness on our faces.