Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Mass for the Solemnity of Pentecost Year C 2022 and the commissioning of the inaugural Catholic Schools Parramatta Diocese Ltd Chairperson and Board of Directors at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta.
Readings: Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 103(104):1, 24, 29-31, 34; Romans 8:8-17; John 14:15-16, 23-26
Formed into a witnessing ecclesial community
What a transformation and a complete metamorphosis! They went from a bunch of mismatched, misguided and self-interested individuals into a dynamic, unified and purposeful community. They modelled a way of living and relating that shook the foundations of the Roman Empire. They rendered an impossible mission possible.
The feast of Pentecost that we are celebrating today is the pivotal moment that catalysed a small and vulnerable group of followers into a beacon of light, hope and healing for the world. We are told that after the crucifixion, the disciples gathered in a state of fear and disarray. Their dream of a messianic glory had turned into a profound disillusionment. They were confronted not only with the hostile forces outside but also with a deep sense of guilt and recrimination from within. Yet, it was in to this very moment of utter vulnerability that the Holy Spirit came and transformed them into a leavening force for the kingdom.
The Acts of the Apostles tells us that after the tongues of fire had rested on them, they began to speak in the languages that people from all over the world could understand. Pentecost thus reverses the situation at the tower of Babel where people were divided on account of their differences. The Church as a community of disciples is given the task of bridging the gaps and bringing down the barriers that separate people. We are called to embody the Spirit who transcends all boundaries and divisions.
This is the inspiration for us today as we grapple with what Pope Francis called the change of era. Yes, it is true that we have much to give thanks for. The Church enjoys a position of influence, even in secular and even post-Christian Australia. It still speaks and advocates for the poor, the marginalised and the voiceless. In fact, more than any other groups, the Catholic Church called for a minimum wage rise for low paid workers. Our effort in the ecological crisis is another case in point.
All of these positive signs, though, should not make us indifferent to a sobering reality. In many ways, we are witnessing the passing of the old and the emergence of the new. We mourn the loss of many things: wealth, status, power as well as vitality, strength and credibility. But we are hopeful of a new beginning: the Church that is poor, humble – or in the words of Pope Francis – wounded and bruised, but more decisively aligned to the radical vision of Christ.
It is a daunting task to embody that vision for the world in which we live. But we are inspired by the example of the early Christian community. In the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, they showed to the world what it was like to be a force for social transformation. Against the imperial system of domination, they formed an intentional community of radical inclusivity, equity, justice and love. This alternative paradigm of solidarity subverted the default model of self-interest.
The recent election seems to have indicated the collective desire for change. It seems to say that Australia cannot conduct business as usual. We cannot go on business as usual in terms of the big picture issues like diversity, equity, justice and climate action. The Church in response to these signs of the times must reimagine a new way of being together with one another and with the planet so that we can be a source of hope for the world.
We must have the courage to move to the new future where the Spirit leads us. Just as individualism and self-interest must give way to the common good as the organising principle for the post-pandemic world, the Church must pioneer this paradigm shift in its own structures and mission. Pope Francis has identified this as the movement towards baptismal responsibility, agency and discipleship. It is the grassroots way of walking and working together to bring about the Kingdom in who we are and what we do.
Today, we commission the inaugural Board of Catholic Schools Parramatta Diocese Ltd as an expression of a Church centred on the dignity and gift of the baptised. These directors who are highly regarded leaders in their respective fields will work collaboratively with the Executive Team and the Trustees in order to provide wholesome Catholic education across the Diocese. I thank the Schools Council which has concluded its work for handing on the baton to the new board. This is truly a momentous leap of faith and a significant milestone in the life of the Diocese as we move decisively towards a synodal way of governance, decision making and mission.
Let us not be afraid to embrace the call of the Spirit as we move into a more critical world and more challenging environment. Let us equip ourselves not with a security of wealth, status and power but with a faithful discipleship that unites us into a witnessing ecclesial community. Then, guided by the Holy Spirit and open to a world of complexity, we can live up to our prophetic call to be a model and a beacon of hope for humanity.