Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2021 on the occasion of Lunar New Year at St Monica’s Parish, North Parramatta
Readings: Deuteronomy 11:7-15; Phil 4:6-9; Matthew 5:1-11
14 February 2021
Resetting the priorities of the Christian life
Dear friends in Christ,
Today, we gather to give thanks to God for the new Lunar New Year, the Year of the Ox, a symbol of industry, patience, and endurance. We will need these virtues to see out what will be another challenging year. 2020 was in the words of Queen Elizabeth “annus horribilis”. We had the devastating bush fires that caused untold destruction and hardship. We had barely recovered when the pandemic suddenly appeared and radically changed the way we live. Furthermore, many of you have been affected by the events that have been unfolding in Hong Kong. There has never been a more testing time for the millions of residents there, including some of your loved ones.
Scriptures today inspire us to be people of hope in times of chaos, disruption and fear. We are called to be like God’s faithful remnants or the anawim in the face of uncertainty and anxiety. Despite the challenges facing us, we must not swerve from doing what Paul exhorts us in the seconding: “whatever is true, honourable and just”. We are called to orientate our lives to the higher values and principles that will lead us to true blessedness, not simply good fortune in this world but a fulfilment of our God-given purpose of existence.
In the first reading, Moses gives his farewell speech to the people before his impending death. He reminds them of the blessings and wonders God has done for them: the freedom from bondage and the journey into the Promise Land. The exodus was meant to shape them into God’s faithful people. They were meant to form a society different to the one they had experienced in Egypt, one in which true freedom, justice and human dignity would flourish.
The Book of Deuteronomy became pivotal for the formation of Judaism during the exile. Dislocation carries with it a temptation to be preoccupied with private wellbeing at the expense of the common good. This is all too evident in our own society, where public responsibility is on the wane and the most privileged desperately work to improve their private estate. Moses asks the people to witness as a community of faith instead of pursuing personal security alone.
The Gospel teaching, on the other hand, takes us to another level. In what is known as the Beatitudes, Jesus challenges us with the highest kind of moral ideals. He calls us to embody values that challenge the conventional definition of happiness. In fact, they seem to be contradiction in term. The poor will be rich; the gentle will be strong; the persecuted will be rewarded and those who weep will rejoice. Seriously, how can one survive in this dog-eat-dog world by being meek, humble and merciful? How can it be a blessing to be poor, to be sorrowful and especially to be persecuted? They sound more like curses alright. After all, who would wish these things on anybody at any time of the year, let alone at the Lunar Festival?
However, when we examine the words of our Lord carefully, the initial puzzlement will give way to a deeper appreciation. We realise that happiness does not reside in possessions, successes or achievements. Real happiness resides in a heart open to loving, to giving, to caring, to enhancing the lives of others even to the point of dying for the ones we love. Jesus invites us to find this kind of happiness through a life of witness, service and solidarity. Christian happiness belongs to those who dare to give, to serve, to love even to the extent of having to pay the cost of that love in the way that Jesus himself did on the cross. That is fundamentally the meaning of the Beatitudes.
The value system of Jesus upsets and turns upside down the value system of the world. This is evident not just through the teachings and parables of Jesus but even more so by his own life and ministry. In him, we meet the God of our ancestors who revealed himself in the gentle breeze or the burning bush; the God who empowered the faithful remnants to rebuild the new Israel after the exile. In him, we encounter the God who affirmed the dignity of the down trodden and raised up the lowly. The beatitudes provide an alternative vision of life. It is counter-cultural insofar as it goes against the grain of human nature.
In the world in which people prioritise personal well-being, security and wealth over the care of the less fortunate, the Christians are called to negotiate the hard road of fraternal concern, compassion and communion. This year may prove to be challenging from many angles. But let us not be afraid to live in faith, hope and love despite everything to the contrary. May God enable us to live the beatitudes of Jesus and attain blessedness through our daily living of and witnessing to the Gospel values.
“Kung hei fat choi” to you all!