Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2018 at St Finbar’s Parish, Glenbrook
2 September 2018
I am delighted to be here and affirm the great witness that this parish community gives, not only in terms of the works of education, mission and outreach, but also in the way parishioners live their daily Christian life.
This is the Church at the coal face. The Church is a gathering of the people of God, drawn by the power of the Holy Spirit in worship, communion and service. The Church makes present the love of Christ. We are the gentle reach of God’s hand affirming, healing, strengthening and uplifting one another and those in need.
The Church as an institution has been accused of lacking in these elements. It has been accused of lacking in love, compassion and even acting with hypocrisy, especially in relation to victims of sexual abuse. In this time, our priority is not and should not be about fending off criticisms – deserved and undeserved. In the spirit of humility and repentance, we need to focus our attention squarely on how we follow the compassionate Jesus and how authentic we are in being the sacrament of God’s compassion and care for the least and the last.
Scriptures today challenge us to be people who demonstrate our faith not by mere external observances but by the depth of our character and the breadth of our love. In the first reading, we hear a message that has relevance to Australia in terms of its treatment of the vulnerable people.
Moses reminded the people that God had liberated them from slavery and formed them into a great nation. They were to be a beacon of freedom and justice to other nations. The oppression and injustice in Egypt were now to be replaced by their mutual love and care for one another. St James in the second reading reinforces that message by saying that true religion is coming to the help of orphans and widows. In other words, by caring for the most marginalised and disadvantaged, our faith becomes authentic.
The Gospel story tells us of the dispute between Jesus and the Pharisees on the question of religious observance. The latter observed the external requirements of the Law while neglecting its internal transformation. Jesus condemns this shallow, self-serving and false religion, which becomes an accessory to one’s public image and a means to enhance one’s status. He challenges us to practice a holiness that goes to the heart, the holiness that has to do with integrity, love and service, the holiness that touches the depth of who we are and connects us with the humanity of one another.
What Jesus teaches us is that observing the letter of the law is not enough. Rather, we need to go deeper into the core of God’s commandments. It is not just avoiding infringements of the law but fulfilling its purpose. It is not checking all the right boxes but getting one’s heart right with God. It is not doing the minimum but loving others at our own cost.
Pope Francis exemplifies a Christian leader who refuses the trappings of his office. He challenges us to abandon our culture of comfort and go to the periphery, to be the voice of love and compassion for those deprived of it. We must be less of an enclosure for the virtuous but more an oasis for the weary and downtrodden. We must be less of an experience of exclusion and more of an encounter of radical love, inclusiveness and solidarity. The spirit is calling us anew into the business of being the sacrament of God’s love for the world.
As the Church undergoes the pattern of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection, we are invited to let go of what is unnecessary and keep to what is essential. In this time of diminishment and uncertainty, what we need to remember is only an authentic living of the Gospel will carry us through. Let us then persevere in faith, hope, love, goodness, humility as we await the working of grace and transformation in the Church. May we grow in our authentic discipleship and be the sacrament of God’s presence to the world.