Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C 2019 at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, Greystanes
Readings: Gen 18:1-10; Col 1:24-28; Luke 10:38-42
21 July 2019
Engaging with the sacred in and around us
We live in a world of fear, fear of change and of the loss of our way of life.
It is evident in the way nations around the world respond to the refugee crisis. Australia is no exception. In fact, this weekend marks the sixth anniversary of the policy of indefinite detention of boat people in Manus Island and Nauru.
Pope Francis has been almost a lone voice among world leaders calling for a culture of encounter and solidarity as opposed to the culture of fear and apathy. He has consistently appealed for a sense of shared responsibility in the face of a globalised indifference towards the strangers in our midst.
Scriptures this Sunday call us to deepen our awareness of God’s presence and mystery, and be moved to act beyond the patterns of our thinking and behaviour.
In the first reading from the Book of Genesis, we hear the story of an encounter between Abraham and the strangers at the Oak of Mamre. Though there were three of them, Abraham addressed them as “My Lord”. Christians later would see these three visitors as a foreshadowing of the Trinity. Abraham was keenly aware of the divine presence. His response showed the depth of his faith: “My Lord, I beg you, if I find favour with you, kindly do not pass your servant by”. We can hear the echo of his words of humble faith and trust in the centurion’s response to Jesus, which we ourselves repeat before Communion.
Abraham and Sarah were hospitable and generous to the strangers who were the angels of God in disguise. They were rewarded with the long-awaited pregnancy of their child. They taught us the art of living with spiritual mindfulness, which enables us to meet the God of newness and surprise. They showed us how to live sacramentally. This means that we are able to engage with the sacred in everything and everyone.
God often comes to visit us in disguise, and like Abraham and Sarah, we need to see beyond the appearances. We need to have our eyes opened, unscaled like those of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus in order to see the hidden God in our midst. The story is the parable for us.
In the midst of the harsh and inhospitable environment, we are called to be community of acceptance, hospitality and generosity. Christians are indeed summoned to form an alternative and counter-cultural society, an oasis of hope – like the tent of Abraham and Sarah – that challenges the culture of fear around us.
The story of Martha and Mary provides further insight into how we ought to live the sacrament of the present moment in order to be fully engaged with the manifestations of the Spirit.
They welcomed Jesus into their house. But while Mary was intent on listening and conversing with her guest, Martha was like one of the contestants in My Kitchen Rules. She came to a point of frustration and asked Jesus to intervene. To her surprise, Jesus affirmed Mary’s stance. She is a symbol of Christian contemplation. We hear echo of this story in the Acts of the Apostles where disputes over the distribution of food led the Lucan community to reimagine ministries in the early Church, so prayer and charity were not lost.
The Gospel story is a reminder to Christians of the need to live life deeply, sacramentally and contemplatively. We need to see life through the filter not of competition, success and achievement. Rather, it is the prism of God’s love and concern for his people; it is the Kingdom and its righteousness, which ought to be the ultimate driving force of our lives.
Paul in the second reading showed us something of this passion when he spoke of his sufferings as a result of the Gospel. The sufferings he alluded to had much to do with the battle he had fought against those who insisted circumcision on Gentile Christians.
It was the inclusiveness of the Kingdom and the radical acceptance of everyone in the Church of God that made Paul into the faithful steward of the Good News. Paul’s hard-fought victory that all are loved by God, all are of equal value, Jew or Greek, male or female, circumcised or uncircumcised, needs to be revisited again and again as we engage with many contemporary social issues.
The Word of God today calls us to live sacramentally and contemplatively. God often reveals himself to us in a way that can only be fully appreciated with attitude of humble and vulnerable trust.
Like Abraham and Sarah, we learn to recognise God disguised in our brothers and sisters, including strangers who need our compassion and empathy, not apathy and judgment. Like Martha and Mary, we learn the art of generous welcoming, deep listening and attentive living.
As we journey towards the National Plenary Council in 2020, we pray for this contemplative spirit of listening, discerning and engaging together with the challenges of being Church in the post-Royal Commission society.
May the Church become like the tent at Mamre and the house at Bethany – a community of prayer, hospitality and hope.
May we, through our being rooted in Christ and His values, be transformed into the stewards of the Good News.