Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C and for the Mass of the Ordination to the Diaconate of Adam Carlow at Our Lady, Queen of Peace Parish, Greystanes
Readings: Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19; 1 Corinthians 12:31 – 13:13: Luke 4:21-30
Called to authenticity even at the cost of popularity
This past week, as we celebrated Australia Day, we also mourned the passing of two great Australian women, both of whom in their own ways challenge us to be a better people and a better country for all. Rosalie Kunoth-Monks was a passionate advocate for her own indigenous heritage, language, culture and sovereignty. With 10 years as a nun and a lifetime of commitment to social justice, Rosalie was a shining indigenous embodiment of the Gospel.
The other was Sr Janet Mead whose rather unconventional rendition of the “Lord’s Prayer” became a global hit. Inspired by the Second Vatican Council, it was her way of enabling the young to bring God to their lived experience. It was symptomatic of her radical openness to the call of the spirit. This openness led her to the poor, refugees, indigenous and those who are on the margins and shadows of society. Despite the acclaim, Janet turned her attention to what mattered to her most: championing the rights of the down and out. Both women left us a proud legacy and challenged us to expand our limited horizons.
This Sunday’s liturgy reminds us of the fundamental call to authenticity even at the cost of popularity. The Word of God challenges us to go beyond what is familiar, secure and comfortable in order to embrace vulnerability for the sake of fidelity to the boundary-breaking spirit of God. In the name and the example of Jesus, we are inspired to empower the powerless, to lift up the lowly and in so doing, we embody the God of justice, inclusion and dignity for the downtrodden.
In the first reading, we hear the call of Jeremiah who is known as ‘the weeping prophet’. He was asked to deliver a hard message to Israel at a time where there was much chaos and uncertainty. He lamented and condemned the corruption, moral decay, idolatry, shifting alliances and opportunism in Israel.
Jeremiah was caught between a compelling word of God and those who rejected that word. In the end, he chose to be faithful to his mission in the face of opposition. He shows us what it means to swim against the tide and walk the long hard and unpopular road of fidelity.
Such prophetic courage and commitment are also demanded of the disciples as evident by the Gospel reading. Jesus – we are told – was rejected by his own people, who had expected a different kind of Messiah. A carpenter’s son from a humble stock, he didn’t fit into their messianic model. Furthermore, he dared to challenge their privileged status and to suggest that God was in favour of outsiders like the foreign widow and the Syrian leper. In fact, Jesus would be ultimately rejected, condemned and crucified for his persistent challenge to the status quo and insistence on God’s preferential option for the poor, the outcast and the excluded.
Last Sunday’s Gospel, we heard in no uncertain terms that Jesus’ mission would be directed to those on the margins. “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”. The God of Jesus was not confined to a tribe, a country, a social status. He embodied and preached a God that transcended the established walls that separate, the rules that categorise and label people, and the borders that define party loyalty. The pain and hurt of poverty, captivity, blindness, and oppression know no boundaries. That means the divine favour of good news, release, sight, and freedom can have no boundaries either.
Sisters and brothers,
This evening, we commission Adam through the diaconal ordination to live and share the radical Gospel of Jesus. I am grateful to fellow clergy and especially the parishioners of Our Lady, Queen of Peace for providing a nurturing environment for him. The prophet Jeremiah referred to himself as being formed by God in his mother’s womb. In a way, Adam was formed also in the womb of the Catholic community that gives witness by worship, formation and outreach. Your diaconal ministry will bring into sharp focus a fundamental dimension of Christian discipleship, namely the commitment to service. You are to manifest the diakonia of Christ that is a common call for all the baptised. Until we have reclaimed diakonia, the Church will be less than what Christ intends it to be.
As his disciples, we are also commissioned to extend the ministry of Jesus and to enhance the lives of others in its totality. Wherever Jesus went, he engaged people and their concerns; he championed their cause; he brought about total healing; he made a difference to their lives and relationships.
In the light of the Scripture today and in the shining examples of people like Rosalie and Janice, we pledge to create an environment where fear of differences is replaced by encouraging all people to share their gifts. The world often makes outsiders into enemies or rivals, but God calls us to greater openness to the surprising ways in which he conveys his presence and power. It is our Gospel-inspired response to act with moral courage out of concern for justice and integrity. It is bound up with the call to stand on the side of the powerless and the vulnerable.
The Church is called to be an alternative relational paradigm for those on the margins, where the poor and the forgotten can be brought into a new unity. We are to participate in the divine project of reconciling and restoring all things in Christ. It is our commitment to the truth of the Gospel even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others. May we have the courage to follow the example of Christ and live fully the demands of Christian discipleship.