Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C and for the Mass of the Ordination to the Diaconate of Matthew Dimian at Holy Family Church, Sacred Heart Parish, Luddenam-Warragamba.
Readings: Isaiah 6:1-8; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8; Luke 5:1-11
Called to go beyond the safe harbour to where God’s Spirit leads us
Sisters and brothers,
One of the hardest things for us to do in life is to make a new start after a cataclysmic event like a financial disaster, a terminal illness, a death in the family or a distant relocation. Many years ago, I made a journey to Australia as a boat person. Like many of you, migrants and refugees, I had to learn to adapt and begin again in a very different environment. But it did not stop there. I am constantly challenged to go beyond the familiar, secure and comfortable. This is why I have chosen my episcopal motto to be “launch into deeper waters” – the very words of Jesus in the Gospel today.
As a society or indeed as a human family, I wonder if we must have the courage to make a clean start in the wake of the cataclysmic event called Covid-19 pandemic. Indeed, this is the appeal Pope Francis made to the world. He implores us not to return to the flawed system of the past but to adopt a new modus operandi that brings justice, harmony and sustainability to all of life.
Scriptures on this Sunday challenge us to live life to the full by a discipleship marked with courage, generosity and purpose. Like a boat that carried Jesus, we must not prefer the secure shallow harbour to the deeper waters. Christian discipleship is not about protecting one’s status quo, interests and security at all costs. Rather, it is more about the call to follow Christ who expands our limited horizons, challenges our status quo and demands nothing short of a radical alignment of our attitude and behaviour with his vision of a dignified life for all.
In the first reading, we hear the story of how Isaiah experienced the call to be God’s messenger. King Uzziah’s death signals the beginning of the political instability in Israel and its subsequent invasion by the Assyrians. In such a time, one’s priority is often dictated by self-survival. It would take great courage to go out on a limb and speak the voice of integrity and justice. Yet, this was precisely the call of Isaiah. In spite of his inadequacy, he was empowered to give himself in service of God’s Word. “Here I am Lord. Send me.” His trustful response has been the source of inspiration for countless generations of believers. It is our “yes” to God that opens us to new horizons and possibilities.
The Gospel of St Luke continues to portray Jesus as the boundary breaker and the enabler of human potential. In previous episodes, we have heard that his mission was aligned with God’s compassion for the vulnerable, including the blind, the deaf, the captive and the downtrodden. He was sent to bring outsiders inside God’s circle of love. No wonder Jesus was driven out of town by those who felt threatened by his radical and subversive message.
In today’s story, he is with his disciples, preaching from their boat and sharing with them the pain of failure. Simon verbalises this by saying “We worked hard all night and caught nothing.” Indeed, Jesus seems to have a penchant for showing up precisely at the moments of loss and defeat. In John’s Gospel, the experience of empty nets took place after the disastrous events in Jerusalem.
It is therefore all the more significant how Jesus addresses their disillusionment and failure. He challenges them to adopt a new modus operandi. He commands them to cast their nets out to the starboard. In those days, they did not have motorised propellers. Starboard actually means the steering side and no one would risk entangling the nets by throwing them on the same side. Essentially, Jesus’ command is a challenge to do things differently, to go beyond their set routines and established patterns of behaviour.
In a post-Covid world, is there a need for us to expand our vision and change our way of being Church? Is there a sense in which we must release ourselves from rigid individualism, self-reference and embrace a more dialogical and collaborative stance that the 2nd Vatican Council articulated? Christian faith has for far too long been concerned with a narrow paradigm of afterlife, individual salvation and privatism. Some of us cannot even think and act outside this narrow paradigm, let alone see the big picture and the lofty vision that requires ecumenical, interfaith, ecological and indeed cosmological reimagination.
“So I leave my boats behind, leaving them on familiar shores. Set my heart upon the deep. Follow you again my Lord.” These words of a popular Australian hymn remind us of God calling us to our full potential. And we can only achieve this by embracing the insecurity of vulnerable trust. Paul exemplified this radical discipleship by abandoning his security system, adopting the self-emptying way of Jesus and living more boldly at the periphery with the undeserved.
This evening, Mathew is inducted formally to the ministry of diakonia. Your ordination is a sign of hope and renewal of God’s everlasting love to his people.
Like Isaiah who accompanied his fellow Jews into exile and reimagined Judaism outside the promised land, you are sent in a time of tremendous upheaval and uncertainty. The exiled Church of ours must similarly learn to adapt to changing social and cultural conditions. The Church needs not only ministers who can dispense the sacraments but also prophets who can find fresh creative ways of embodying and conveying the message of the Gospel to the culture in which we live. The spirit of the living Lord is calling us forth to navigate the turbulent waters and to do new things for more effective evangelization.
May the teaching and example of Jesus guide us as we endeavour to build relationships and communities that mirror the Reign of God. May we have the courage to launch into the deep and allow ourselves to be led by the radical call of the Gospel.