Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for Red Mass for St Thomas More Society at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
Readings: Is 42:1-3 Luke 4:16-22
28 January 2020
It would be an understatement to say that we’ve had one of the most challenging summers in Australia. As we begin another working year, we are reminded in a rather dramatic fashion of the challenges ahead for our country and indeed for our world.
The bushfire crisis should serve as a wake-up call to Australia and all Australians. As Christian leaders we are called to discern God’s direction for the future and embrace the alternative pathway of justice and sustainability against the ingrained culture of fear and defence of the status quo.
Four years ago, Pope Francis issued an encyclical on the environment and called for an “ecological conversion”, meaning a deep communion and stewardship with all things that surround us. In that prophetic document, we have a blueprint for a sustainable future that is based on respect and love for this beautiful planet. The encyclical is offered to us as timely reminder that we humans are part of the interconnected cosmic web of creation and we need to live in harmony with it.
The Word of God today speaks a sense of duty, commitment and decisive alignment with God’s plan. In the first reading, Isaiah describes the mission of God’s Servant-Messiah as an agent of justice. “Here is my servant whom I uphold. I have endowed him with my spirit that he may bring justice to the nations.”
In the midst of war, injustice and oppression, the Servant is called forth to serve the cause of right and to bring God’s justice to the oppressed. He will do so not by force but by tenderness, not by destroying but by healing. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench”. Thus, the mission of the Servant-Messiah is bound up with delivering justice, dignity and liberation to the victims of injustice and oppression. The rightly governed world will indeed be detoxified, no more a threat to the oppressed. It will be safe and enabling for the most vulnerable.
The Gospel tells us the story of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. “The spirit of God has anointed me. He sent me to bring the Good News to the poor, liberty to captives, sight to the blind and the Year of favour for all”. With these words, Jesus set out his mission. They sum up those things that Jesus would later do in respect of the social outcasts. They encapsulate his attitude, his vision and his mission.
In St Luke’s Gospel, particularly, we hear him proclaiming and defending the dignity of the least. We witness him befriending and socialising with the tax collectors, sinners and prostitutes; we see him challenging ingrained attitudes of prejudice and exclusion; we even see him breaking social taboos and expanding the boundaries of human love, acceptance and friendship.
Brothers and sisters,
There is no other field of human endeavour that is so deeply connected to justice as the legal profession. As Christians, your mission reflects that of the Servant-Messiah who delivers justice, dignity and liberation to the victims of injustice. Modelled on Jesus, the great liberator, you are to lead others, especially the unjustly oppressed to higher levels of inclusion and human flourishing.
Pope Francis has challenged us to reclaim the liberating message of the Gospel. For him, it has little to do with maintaining the status quo, especially when that status quo is less than what God wants for us as individuals and as a community. Australia is a great country but where it is in terms of its treatment of asylum seekers, the Indigenous and marginalised people, it should galvanise us into action.
We cannot be true to the Gospel if we safeguard our privileges and fail to deliver justice and human dignity to those who are unjustly deprived of it. It is God’s vision of justice, mercy and the fullness of life for all that consumes us and spurs us on.
It has never been so tough to be a Catholic, let alone a Catholic lawyer. But then, we need to remember that the tough times can be the blessed times. The Church was not at its best when it reached the heights of imperial power in what was known as Christendom. The Church was at its best when it was poor, persecuted, without power and wealth.
Consistently, we true believers are challenged to be the beacons of hope in the midst of pain, suffering and despair. It humbles us that God is in the mess, disorientation and even in the perceived irrelevancy of the Church. This liminal and fallow time may turn out to be the best time to be part of a humble, inclusive and servant Church.
As we pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the intercession of St Thomas More on our work at this Red Mass, we recommit ourselves to work towards God’s vision of justice, mercy and the fullness of life for all humanity. Let this liminal time be a time in which we as the Church reclaim the powerlessness of Christ and the fundamental ethos of care for the weak and justice for the excluded. Then we can truly be the servants of justice, the conduit of mercy and the sign of hope for all.
May God of the journey accompany and form us into his people and his instruments for the transformation of the world.