Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit for the First Assembly of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia
Readings: Deuteronomy 30:10-14; Psalm 18: 8-11; Philippians 2:1-4; Mark 6:30-34
3 October 2021
“Go and rebuild my Church that is falling into ruins”
Dear friends in Christ,
Today, the Church in Australia begins a significant and historic event called the Fifth Plenary Council. Announced in May 2016, this national gathering is a moment of grace as we seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance in addressing the many challenges we face as a community of disciples. We are at a point in history where all the indications point to a perfect storm: the sexual abuse crisis, the near-total collapse of active participation, loss of credibility, a shrinking pool of clerical leadership etc. The extraordinary response from rank and file Catholics, including 17,500 submissions, shows the seriousness of the situation in which we find ourselves.
All things considered, we earnestly desire a better future for the Church in Australia in the post-Royal Commission period. We yearn for a deep authentic reform that will enable us to reflect the core values of the Gospel in the way we participate in the mission of the Church. The paschal rhythm summons us to a discipleship of humility, weakness and vulnerability, of dying and rising in Christ. We must discern how to die to the old ways of being Church and how to rise to Christ-like way of greater inclusion, compassion and service.
Today’s scripture challenges us to be a catalyst for the kingdom and a critical yeast for critical times. The God revealed to us in salvation history and especially in the life of Jesus calls us to respond with courage rather than fear, intransigence and defence of the status quo. Instead of a safe harbour, God pushes us out to turbulent waters in order to expand the boundaries of our engagement. Chaos and uncertainty can become the venue of growth, transformation and possibility.
In the first reading, we hear how Moses instructs the people to heed the voice of God and to adhere to God’s way as opposed to the way of the empire. The emphasis on the Law is none other than the counter-witness to the system of domination, oppression and injustice where the powerful exploits the powerless, the strong over the weak, and the privileged over the disadvantaged.
Moses solemnly exhorts the people “to obey the voice of the Lord” as they are about to abandon the nomadic way of life and settle in the promised land. This transition necessitates a deepening of the core values of the covenant. Moses hence summons them to the alternative way of being in the world, that of justice, inclusion, care and concern for the most vulnerable members of the community.
Moses’ vision of a new social order came to fulfilment in the person and ministry of Jesus. Time and again, he challenged the disciples to move from the default model of power, dominion and self-preservation to the new Kingdom model of service, love and self-sacrifice. In today’s Gospel, he trains them into the art of communion with God. They cannot be bearers of healing and liberation without themselves constantly tapping the life-giving source of the capacity to do so.
Furthermore, Jesus shows his compassion for the people. “He took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Thus, he was seen as the fulfilment of the prophetic prediction of the shepherd king who would care for the “Anawim” of God. The Church is challenged to care for the people like Jesus. It is the challenge to live more fully, more boldly and more humbly at the periphery. This has been Pope Francis’ constant challenge to the Church. It is the Church that dares to do what Jesus did: to leave the security of its status, to accompany the most vulnerable, to minister at the liminal and precarious places, to empower all people to live life more fully.
Dear sisters and brothers,
Like the chosen people of old, we are also at a threshold moment. As we move into a new era, we must discern how to be a fit for purpose Church, so that we can be a more effective vehicle for the Good News.
Pope Francis has given us a prophetic leadership in the way he envisions Church that is based on mutuality, not exclusion, love, not fear, “smell of the sheep”, not elitism, engagement with the world, not flight from or hostility against it, incarnate grace, not dualism.
It humbles us to know that God is with us in the mess and even in the perceived irrelevancy of the church. It comforts us, too, to know that the Church was not at its best when it reached the heights of its power in what was known as Christendom. It was the Church of the Catacombs that shone forth its best rays of hope – ironically when it was poor, persecuted and powerless.
It is providential that the Plenary Council begins on the feast of St Francis of Assisi. Let us pray that as a community of disciples, we once again take up the call issued to us as once to him: “Go and rebuild my Church that is falling into ruins”. May the Holy Spirit guide and bring to fruition our dream for the Church that will convey the freshness of the Gospel to our culture.
Watch Bishop Vincent celebrating the Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit for the Plenary Council here or below.