Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily from the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C and the Golden Jubilee of Priestly Ordination of Fr Zvonimir Gavranovic at St John XXIII Catholic College, Stanhope Gardens.
Readings: Ecclesiasticus 3:19-21, 30-31; Psalm 67(68):4-7, 10-11; Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24; Luke 14:1, 7-14
28 August 2022
It is a great joy for us to gather and celebrate this magnificent milestone, the 50th anniversary of priestly ordination of Fr Zvonimir. We join with his relatives, friends and parishioners in giving thanks to God for the many years of ministerial service and witness that he has been able to render to the Church. It is fitting for us to use the words of the Magnificat attribute to God the gift of longevity and fidelity which he has bestowed on the indomitable Fr Zvonimir: “My soul proclaims the greatnss of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my Saviour; because he has looked upon his lowly servant.”
The priesthood flows in and out from Christ. He is the centre, he is the beginning and the end, he encompasses us. St Paul says that we are earthenware vessels who contain the inestimable treasure that is Christ. As earthenware vessels, we need your support in our weakness and vulnerability so that we can manifest Christ to you and to others. It is the prayers, support, generosity and sacrifice of our family, friends, benefactors and others which sustain us in our priestly service and witness.
I am sure Fr Zvonimir would affirm the notion that we priests need to be ministered to as much as we minister to others. The priest must allow himself to be formed, nurtured and shaped by the faith of the community. The book of Sirach, which contains the pearls of ancient Jewish wisdom exhorts us to conduct our affairs with humility and to humble ourselves even more if we happen to be in positions of power. This is even more true of a priest who must embody the self-effacing love and powerlessness of the Servant Lord.
The priest is not a lone and exalted figure exclusively chosen and gifted with something, which most people do not have. Rather the priest is the presence in whom the implicit priesthood of the baptized is called to become active. In this way, we learn to discover a deeper and more holistic identity as members of the People of God and as presbyters in the sense of preceding and leading people by example but not hermetically sealed from them.
In the Gospel, Jesus however takes humility to a new level. It goes to the very nature of God and what it means to be His people. The world revels in power whereas God does the opposite. He is a self-emptying God. Jesus, the suffering servant, is the incarnation of a powerless God. He gives us a completely different relational model, one not based on power and status but on humility and service, not on rights and entitlements but on gratuity and goodness. “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the person who humbles himself will be exalted.” He goes on to challenge his followers to abandon the relational model of the world and adopt that of the kingdom. The former has to do with competition, self-entitlement and self-centred behaviour whereas the latter has to do with love, generosity and service towards others.
For Jesus, then, humility is not simply a matter of putting on some gestures or even reaching out to others in acts of charity and yet safeguarding our positions of power and privileges at all costs. Rather, it is a radical discipleship of vulnerability and powerlessness that we are called to embrace. Jesus subverts the prevalent model of greatness and power associated with leadership. His model means the greatest has to become the smallest; the powerful has to become the powerless and the leader has to become the servant. It is a stark reminder of our commitment to be servants in imitation of the Servant Leader who came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life for others.
Brothers and sisters,
So much of what is wrong with the Church today stems from the travesty of Christian leadership and service. When privilege, power and dominance are more evident than love, humility and servant-hood in the Church, then the very Gospel of the servant Jesus is at stake. What we need to reclaim for the Church forcefully and unequivocally is the discipleship of humility, love and service.
This trying time may turn out to be the best time to be part of a humble, loving and servant Church. Only by dying to power, domination, ostentation and rising to humility, simplicity, servant-hood can we be catalysts for renewal and agents of the Gospel.
As we give thanks for the golden jubilee of Fr Zvonimir’s priestly ordination, we pray that we become humble servants of one another in the example of Jesus. May we be strengthened to walk the journey of faith with one another and with those entrusted to our care. May we learn to become servants of the Kingdom and visible signs of hope and sacraments of God’s light to them.