Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the First Sunday of Advent
Readings: Jer 33:14-16; 1 Thess 3:12-4:2; Luke 21:25-36
Advent is a season of new beginnings and hope. It reminds us that while things might seem hopeless, God is directing history to its fulfilment. In Jesus Christ who conquered sin and death, he already set in motion the final victory over evil and darkness. Therefore, no matter what kind of setback we experience, in big and small matters, we journey with confidence. This is why we pray “while we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”.
Today, we have come together to celebrate a new beginning in the life of this community. We are called to begin again to make God’s Kingdom more present in this parish through the leadership of Deacon Rod with the support of his wife Kathryn and the mentorship of Mons Ron. It is a new model of parish leadership, one that is not a stop gap measure, but an expression of a rich diversity based on mutuality, collaboration and partnership that is inherent in the gift of marriage. It will be an opportunity for us to build on the legacy of the past as well as to meet the new challenges of the future.
We are all aware that the Church in Australia faces daunting challenges both from within and from outside. Rarely a day goes by without some unfavourable headlines about the Catholic church. Things have never been this testing for us who stay faithful. We are strengthened however by the belief that times of great crisis can be catalysts for renewal and transformation. Our God can draw life out of apparent loss and hopelessness. New beginnings do often emerge out of apparent decline and even destruction. God indeed uses suffering and even death to recreate and make the Church more wholesome, more authentic and more visible sign of his presence.
We must therefore be willing to embrace the pattern of dying and rising again: Dying to that which is not worthy of Christ and rising to that which he calls us to be. Our numbers and resources might diminish. But the most important thing is that we learn to live as Christ lived and radiate his goodness to those around us; we learn to be true “leaven and salt” to the world. Perhaps, it is not in yearning fo, or holding onto the known and the familiar but in reimagining the future and venturing into the unknown chaos like the old exodus that we shall find new life.
The Word of God today speaks about crisis and opportunity. Jeremiah encourages his people in exile to act with imagination and courage in favour of the kingdom. God will not abandon them. He will raise up the Messiah who will bring about the fulfilment of God’s promise and the triumph of his justice. But they are not bystanders waiting passively for deliverance. Paul talks about believers growing in love and holiness for the day of the Lord. It is a summons to hope-filled engagement for the sake of the kingdom.
In the Gospel, Jesus talks about the end time and the opportunity to stand erect. Death and destruction, trials and tribulations will be like the pain of childbirth. These words of Jesus were especially relevant to Jewish Christians who saw the temple destroyed by the Romans. But are we not in some ways witnessing the dying of the old way of being Church and the rising of the new from the ashes?
As a church, we are called to die and rise again: From a position of power and strength to that of powerlessness and vulnerability; from a position of wealth and influence to that of being poor and humble; from a position of greatness to being a minority. We are being led to this place of weakness and humbleness. As Peter learned to let go of the old way of power and ambition, so must we be prepared to be stripped of our encumbrances. Then we can be confident that God will bring good out of evil as he has done unfailingly in salvation history.
The metaphor of death and destruction becomes relevant for us as we witness an emerging Church from the ashes of the sexual abuse crisis. Our churches may not be destroyed like the temple in Jerusalem. But in many ways, the death of the old way of being Church is already evident for all to see: our reputation, moral credibility and trust capital are effectively destroyed in the wake of the sexual abuse crisis along with the vestiges of the old fortress, insulate, triumphalist, clericalist Church. But let us not be afraid of the dying of the old just as the prophecy of destruction is followed by the fresh hope of a new dawn.
We may be experiencing trying times similar to the early Christians. Advent calls us to hope. Jesus Christ is the true source of our hope. For his life, death and resurrection have launched the course of history irreversibly in the direction of the kingdom. While waiting for him and the fulfilment of the kingdom at the fullness of time, let us live our lives in faith, hope and love. May we become a more authentic sign of his presence and love in the world. May Mary who submitted humbly and courageously to God at every turn in her journey help us to be humble servants of the kingdom.