Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time and the Beginning of the Seminary Year for Holy Spirit Seminary, Harris Park
Readings: 1 Samuel 26:2-23; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49; Luke 6:27-38
Called to live the new ethics of the Kingdom
Brothers and sisters,
It is not easy to deal with evil, unjust and painful circumstances. Think of the poor people of Ukraine who are facing the imminent threat of foreign invasion. Russia has amassed its troops and military might near the Ukrainian border. Despite frantic international diplomatic efforts, the prospect of war has galvanized ordinary Ukrainians to defend their country and who would blame them?
On a more personal level, many of us struggle to deal with those who have treated us wrongly. It might be a workplace situation. Even closer to home, it might be a family member who has caused us injury. We struggle to overcome our problems with strength, dignity and integrity.
Today’s scripture lesson provides us with some guidance. It contains the central teaching of Jesus on the standards of behaviour expected of his followers. It not only sets them against the ruthless, competitive, inhumane, survival-of-the-fittest mindset of the Roman Empire, it also challenges them to go beyond the old Mosaic law that stops short of loving their enemies and going the extra mile with those indebted to them. Jesus’ moral imperatives stretch the limits of our capacity to love in a way that mirrors the boundless mercy of God himself.
In the first reading, we have a glimpse of such divine mercy through the benevolence of David towards Saul. In earlier episodes, David had been chosen to replace Saul as the new King of Israel. Saul had failed to live up to his call of the true shepherd of Israel. He had abandoned service in pursuit of his own ambitions. David, instead, proved to be a man of peace and magnanimity –at least towards his fellow Jews. In the cave where Saul lay in a deep sleep, David had a perfect opportunity to get rid of his rival. But he chose not to. He entrusted himself to God, saying “The Lord repays everyone for his uprightness and loyalty.”
In the Gospel, Jesus continues to instruct his disciples on the ethics of the kingdom. The Beatitudes we heard last Sunday already reveal a value system that is completely at odds with the behavioural standards of the world. In God’s eyes, the blessed are those who are prepared to lose for higher ideals. They exchange the security of wealth, privilege and status for the insecurity of trust in God, that is, faith without sight, strength without violence and love without counting the cost.
In today’s episode, Jesus pushes the vulnerability of discipleship to fresh extremes. He stretches the limits of our capacity to love to the extent that it reflects divine love. He teaches us an alternative moral code that respects life and seeks to transform our enemies into our friends.
Turning the other cheek, giving the last piece of our garments or going the extra mile, are not submission to violence or surrender to aggression. These are metaphors for a kind of resistance that breaks the cycle of violence. Jesus offers a nonviolent form of resistance that allows the people to keep their humanity and dignity while not cooperating with the various systems of domination that demean, devalue and discard them. We can turn the other cheek and still have dignity. We can still go the extra mile and keep intact our humanity, so that the world can become a better place and our adversaries can change positively.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today, we especially pray for our seminarians as they begin their academic year. We are truly blessed with these young men who have committed themselves to a journey of vocational discernment with a view to serving as ordained ministers. I am indebted to Frs Paul Marshall and John Frauenfelder who replaced Frs John Hogan and Chris D’Souza respectively as Rector and Vice-Rector of our Holy Spirit Seminary. Seminarians are formed with the people and for the people, not for themselves. Therefore, I invite all God’s people in the Diocese to be the extended formation community for these young men. You do so by your prayer, support and when and where possible, even accompaniment.
The Church faces some formidable challenges going forward, not the least of which is its credibility and its being fit-for-purpose in a world that demands transparency, accountability and equality. Pope Francis drawing from the legacy of the Vatican II Council has called on all Catholics to embody a new way of being Church. This synodal way means galvanizing all the gifts of God’s people and enabling their agency and participation. It is the way of walking and working together to bring about the Kingdom in who we are and what we do.
Let us not be afraid to embrace the call of the Spirit as we move into a more critical world and more challenging environment. Let us equip ourselves not with a security of wealth, status and power but with a discipleship of trust, faith and love that Jesus taught us. Then we can be a positive force and a changing agent in a world that is often caught in a cycle of hatred, violence and indifference.