Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the First Sunday of Lent Year B 2021 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
Readings: Genesis 9:8-15; 1Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15
21 February 2021
Embracing God’s newness through chaos
Of all the images that seared into our collective memory during the height of the pandemic, the picture of Pope Francis praying alone in a deserted St Peter’s Square was dramatic. It captured the mood of the whole world in a place that is a symbol of human solidarity and communion. Just as he had used powerful gestures that conveyed the core values of the Gospel, this particular symbol highlighted for us the meaning and importance of being in crisis. It said that we had entered a critical juncture in history, which required something far more radical than a medical or economical solution.
Indeed, as the Pope recalls frequently, the Bible is populated with critical junctures and personalities. It is how salvation history unfolds and achieves its purpose. Chaos often contains the summons to embrace God’s new direction. The experience of darkness, fragility and loss provides us with an opportunity for necessary change and transformation. It is characteristic of true believers to embrace the newness that the Holy Spirit awakens in and through crisis.
The Word of God today speaks of crisis and the need for deep discernment and courageous response rather than fear, intransigence and defence of status quo. Chaos can be opportunities for purposeful discernment and critical action. Lent is such a time. We need the season of Lent to retreat to the desert to rediscover our identity and vocation that comes from a renewal of our baptismal calling.
The story of Noah in the first reading provides us with the model of behaviour in the time of deep crisis. The world which God had declared good had been threatened by humanity’s violence and corruption. Noah was called to be a partner with God in renewing and sustaining the good creation. He is the prototype of God’s righteous who offers a model of human conduct that makes God’s unfolding plan possible. He is a true leader who acts decisively and prophetically while everyone else is oblivious to the signs of the times. His faithful response like that of Abraham was a catalyst for a new future.
Even though the story begins with destruction, it ends with a promise of blessing and a new covenant. God resolves that he will stay with, endure and sustain the world notwithstanding mankind’s penchant for corruption. God seals the covenant with a rainbow, metaphorically a divine signature that He will not abandon His creation. We are summoned through Noah to fulfill our end of the bargain. Just as Noah began to nurture a new remnant community aligned with God’s purpose, we are called to be catalysts for the Kingdom vision of Jesus to flourish in the midst of the moral, environmental and cultural malaise.
The Gospel tells us how Jesus transitions from a sheltered life in Nazareth to the topsy-turvy world of his public ministry. Mark uses a rather unusual phrase to describe this transition. “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness”. This suggests a powerful and deep struggle as he learns to embrace the unknown and uncertain part of his messianic journey.
After his time of intense discernment in the wilderness, he emerges with a renewed focus and a sense of mission. John’s arrest should have served as a warning to him. Yet instead, it is a catalyst for Jesus’ full immersion into a life of service and witness. Like Noah, Jesus made possible God’s restorative and redemptive plan.
Brothers and sisters,
Noah offers us a model of conduct in crisis. His faithful response like that of Abraham facilitates the formation of a new remnant community which foreshadows the anawim in exile and the alternative Gospel community of the Jesus movement.
The Church today needs to enact the Kingdom vision of Jesus more than ever. In the midst of the moral, economical and environmental wreckage, we are summoned to be the custodians and enablers of God’s life-giving dream. The crisis we face is a time of grace insofar as it engages us with our founding stories and with fresh insights we can offer a new way forward. Let us pray that we may grow through chaos and uncertainty in order to be more aligned with God’s purpose. May we become the model community where fraternity, solidarity, harmony and the flourishing of the good creation are the hallmarks of divine plan.