Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2021, 17 October 2021
Readings: Isaiah 53:10-11; Hebrews 4:4-16; Mark 10:35-45
Opening of Synod: Adopting a new way of being Church
This Sunday, Pope Francis has mandated that every diocese or local Church celebrates the beginning of the synod even as he himself celebrated this historic event at the universal level in Rome last week. In times past, synods were often the concern of the bishops and the curia in Rome. Pope Francis believes that the Church is in a new era and we must adopt a new way of being Church. This new way, called the ‘synodal’ way, turns the traditional image of the pyramid upside down. It means that the people are the centre of the Church. We are moving from a centralised and top down modus operandi to a Church for all.
The Pope affirms that ‘this path of synodality’ is precisely what “God expects of the Church of the third millennium.” Instead of the old clericalist model that emphasizes the role of the ordained at the exclusion of others, all the members of the Church are called to be active subjects of evangelization and missionary disciples. The Church, the People of God, should walk together, sharing the burdens of humanity, listening to the cry of the poor, cry of the earth and immersing itself in the coalface realities.
The Word of God this Sunday draws us to a radical way of living and a radical way of being, both individually and collectively as a community of believers. Put quite simply, to follow Christ is to embrace an alternative mode of existence radically different from the default position of self-interest, the survival-oriented behaviour and the worldly pursuit of security, power and glory. Similarly, the Church embodies the alternative relational paradigm that Christ taught and exemplified consistently. This alternative relational paradigm turns the world’s system of power structures on its head because it is rooted in his model of undying love, servant-leadership and powerlessness.
In the first reading, Isaiah speaks to his long suffering people in a way that runs contrary to popular hopes and expectations. In what is known as the Song of the Suffering Servant, the prophet goes against the grain by describing the vulnerability and powerlessness of the expected Messiah. Instead of acting like a super-hero against the enemies of the people, he would be equipped with the weapons of humility, integrity and justice. He would be “crushed with anguish and by his sufferings would justify many”. He would restore Israel not through domination and violence but through love, compassion and justice.
This was not a kind of Messiah that the oppressed and humiliated people had hoped for. It went against the pride of a chosen race who still relished the memories of greatness in the Davidic monarchy, the unrivalled temple, the priesthood, the festivals etc. Yet Isaiah persisted in speaking a prophecy of love over hatred, gentleness over violence, humility over arrogance and vulnerability over force. He challenged the people to resist the imperial mindset of power, violence and retaliation. In exile, they learned to worship and emulate the God of justice, compassion and solidarity.
This is also the kind of God Jesus revealed in his own life and ministry. Against the clamouring of his disciples for power and domination, he taught them the Kingdom way of servant leadership, humility and selflessness. “It shall not be so among you… If anyone wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all.” Talk about turning the world’s value system on its head! God’s way, in effect is the reversal of the imperial model of self-interest, power and glory.
Brothers and sisters,
Pope Francis has invited all Catholics to set out on a journey, to “walk together,” as he puts it, and to reflect the true nature of the Church as a people of God. In the light of the Word today, the Church is challenged to move from the imperial mode of being and acting to the way of Christ: clericalism to service, from self-reference to openness, from splendour to simplicity, from triumphalism to humility, from a siege mentality to engagement with the world. The Church cannot have a better future if it does not move from clericalism to service, byzantine splendour to simplicity, triumphalism to humility, a siege mentality to an openness beyond itself.
Francis’s call for an international synod of bishops on the theme, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission,” is a huge gamble. But it is a risk worth taking, because it is in line with the direction of the Holy Spirit who calls us to leave the safe harbour of Christendom and to go out into the brave new world of secularity.
God’s Word proclaims unequivocally that the Messiah did not follow the script of the empire. His way of compassion, gentleness, vulnerability and powerlessness shines a light on our vocation and witness. May the Church under the leadership of Pope Francis be led by the Holy Spirit to grow into the stature of Christ. May it become the leaven in the midst of humanity, so that the Kingdom of God may rise across the entire world.