Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent Year B 2021 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33
21 March 2021
Reproducing the triumph of life
Recently, while most of the world was still paralysed and preoccupied with the fight against coronavirus, Pope Francis made an extraordinary visit to Iraq. He toured the land teeming with traces of Biblical antiquity, such as Ur, the birthplace of Abraham and Mosul, once known as Nineveh. One of the most striking images of this trip was the Mass he celebrated in front of the rubble of an old church that only a few years ago had been used as a prison and shooting range by the ISIS extremists.
Against all odds, Pope Francis showed encouragement for a nation trying to recover from the chaos of a U.S.-led invasion and the subsequent emergence of the Islamic State. He brought a much-needed dose of human solidarity, a celebration of religious and cultural diversity and a resolve for a better future. His words during the final Mass gave new heart to a weary people: “Our gathering here today shows that terrorism and death never have the last word. Even amid the ravages of terrorism and war, we can see, with the eyes of faith, the triumph of life over death.”
The Word of God this 5th Sunday in Lent also gives us new heart. As we approach the climax of the Lenten journey, we are both challenged to remain steadfast as well as strengthened to do so. The God who accompanies us draws us into the paschal rhythm of Jesus in order to reproduce the triumph of life in each of us and in the world.
In the first reading, the prophet Jeremiah speaks of the new covenant not written in stone as in former times but in the hearts of God’s people. Israel had broken the old covenant made in Sinai. These were the commandments, which were violated by unjust and uncaring practices. For Jeremiah and the prophetic tradition, they were acts of corruption, greed and the abandonment of the poor, widows, orphans and aliens. But in spite of Israel’s violation, God continued to reengage with them. They were to be given to a new chance, a new heart in order to participate in God’s program of renewal and reordering of his people.
Jeremiah echoes the same purifying and life-giving action of God that the exilic prophets speak (e.g. Ezekiel uses the metaphor of the heart of flesh; Isaiah refers to a new thing). The new covenant signals God’s intention to renew Israel even through the destruction and devastation of the exile. “Learn to know the Lord”. These words are an invitation to the people to embrace the challenge of God’s program of renewal through suffering.
In the Gospel, Jesus takes the prophetic invitation to a new level. The story begins with the Gentiles wanting to meet Jesus. They had seen or heard of the many “signs” Jesus had done. He had healed the man born blind, he had raised Lazarus to life, and he had made a triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The Gentiles were anxious to know whether Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah.
In response, Jesus talks about the hour of glory which is synonymous with the cross. He uses the image of the grain in order to speak of his impending passion, death and resurrection. “Unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest”. Jesus refuses the cult of personality and the way of power. He is the Messiah who embodies God’s program of renewal through suffering that Jeremiah prophesied. His passion, death and resurrection are the pattern by which we can attain new life.
Brothers and sisters,
As disciples, we recognise that life worth living is life poured out for others, life that embraces pain, suffering and even death for the sake of the one we love. This is what we call the paradox of the Gospel. The letter to the Hebrews reminds us of the perfect obedience of Jesus and his unwavering commitment to the cross. “Although he was Son, he learnt to obey through suffering.” The cross is at the heart of his life. It must also be the heart of Christian discipleship.
Pope Francis urges us to see and to live with the vision of faith. Let us pray that we may be able to respond to life’s many trying ordeals and conditions. Let us not get trapped in denial, spend our energy in attempts to overturn the unchangeable, or become bitter and self-absorbed. Rather, let us with God’s grace, enact faithfully the rhythm of the Paschal Mystery as it unfolds in myriad ways in our lives.
Today, we offer our prayers for the ministry of Fr Robert Riedling as the new Dean and Administrator of the Cathedral. St Patrick’s is pre-eminently the chief mission of its bishop and therefore together we will implement a vision of a mother Church that is prayerful, missionary, prophetic, inclusive, collaborative and oriented towards an ecclesiology of the People of God.
I give thanks for Fr Robert’s generous partnership and yours in carrying out the mission of the Church in this time and in this place. Let this new beginning be the opportunity for us to deepen our sense of being a presence, an oasis of hope, or in the words of Pope Francis, a field hospital, and a place where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the joy of the Gospel.