Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent Year C 2019 with the 90th Anniversary as a Faith Community of Our Lady of the Nativity, Lawson at Our Lady of the Nativity Church, Lawson
Readings: Is 43:16-21; Phil 3:8-14; John 8:1-11
7 April 2019
The call to embody God’s reconciling and forgiving love
Today, we joyfully gather to give thanks to God for the gift of this faith community, which was officially inaugurated some 90 years ago.
Like a house built on the hilltop, generations of Catholic faithful here in the central Blue Mountains have lived out their call to be a sign of God’s love and an oasis of hope. This beautifully restored church is indeed an expression of your commitment to be a living presence of God.
Despite all the challenges that we face going forward, we will not lose sight of what our faith in Jesus means and what being his living body means.
The Word of God on this fifth Sunday in Lent speaks of God’s intent to renew and revitalise the chosen people through upheaval, chaos and diminishment.
The community of faith – like Israel of old – must discern the signs of the times and manifest itself as the vital sign of God’s enduring love for the world. We are called out of the various captivities in which we find ourselves into what Paul describes as “the glorious freedom of the children of God.”
In the first reading, Isaiah offers a fresh and hopeful vision to his people during the exile. He proclaims God’s words of comfort and guidance: “No need to think about what was done before. Look, I am doing something new”. He reminds them that just as God liberated them from the pharaoh of Egypt, he will also set them free from the pharaoh of Persia. But this new exodus from Babylon to Judea will not be simply a return to the glorious past.
For Isaiah, the future of God’s chosen people lies beyond the old things like the monarchy, the temple, the priesthood, the festivals, the land et cetera, which had been taken away from them. Rather, they are called to be an alternative society under God’s rule, a community of hospitality, compassion, justice and neighbourliness.
In the exile, God’s people experienced a profound loss. From being a great nation with all the status symbols of power, they were reduced to a stateless people – like the Palestinians today. Yet, it was in that moment of utter vulnerability, they gained a new insight into what it meant to be God’s people.
Isaiah’s dream of ploughshare turned into sickle as well as Ezekiel’s vision of the new temple symbolise this new insight. Their faith relationship grew beyond the confines of physical symbols of land, temple and rituals into new horizons of love, compassion and justice. It was with the latter that they would rebuild Israel.
The prophecy of Isaiah is fitting for us as we find ourselves in a new “captivity”. The Church in Australia after the Royal Commission is stripped off many institutional securities and privileges. Here we witness in many ways the devastating impact of secularisation, which is accelerated by the crisis of sexual abuse. Our numbers and resources are diminishing. The recent census shows that while the population of Australia increases, those who self-identify as Catholics decrease. But even far worse than these is the loss of our moral stature and trust capital.
Yet like Israel, we must seek fresh ways of embodying God’s redeeming, forgiving and empowering love. The Church must not lose sight of God’s newness of life which is found when old boundaries are crossed, hurt is noticed, and the weak are honoured. This is what we see in Jesus. He embodies God’s redeeming, forgiving and empowering love.
In the Gospel story where he is confronted with the woman caught in adultery and the crowd who demanded justice, his response is rooted in divine pathos. He challenges those ready to throw stones at the woman to look inside their own hearts. “If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her”. And as he shines a spotlight on their consciences, Jesus is also one with the vulnerable. He stands or rather sits with the woman in her vulnerability and defends her dignity. He ultimately empowers her to live a new life of hope and transformation.
Brothers and sisters,
The challenge for us today is to follow the example of our ancestors in faith and even more so to be inspired by the example of Jesus. It is with the transforming power of God that we seek to renew and to be the Church we are meant to be.
Even as we undergo the process of self-emptying and diminishment in this captivity, we can focus on embodying the Gospel of love, mercy and forgiveness. We may be a smaller, humbler and poorer Church. But hopefully, we can also become a more authentic and effective sign of the Kingdom.
Lent is the time when we endeavour to live more intensely and purposefully the call to empty ourselves of all that prevent us from growing fully in Christ. Like Israel in the exile, we must have the courage to become an alternative community of justice, compassion and solidarity.
Our present captivity could be a blessing disguise in that we learn to begin again from a position of humility, vulnerability and weakness. It is the same position from which Jesus empathised and empowered the woman. As we celebrate the milestone of our faith journey, may we be strengthened to go forward witnessing to the God who “calls us to be captured by Christ Jesus”.