Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta Commissioning Mass 2019 at Mary, Queen of the Family Parish, Blacktown
Readings: Dt 30:15-20; Lk 5:1-11
7 March 2019
Reimagining the future
I do not need to remind you that it is a testing time for Australian Catholics and especially those of us associated with the Church’s mission.
The conviction of Cardinal Pell and its aftermath have left many of us traumatised and shaken. There is a real sense that the Catholic Church is in uncharted territory. “Up the creek without the paddle” we’d say. Yet in the midst of the uncertainty, confusion and malaise, we are emboldened by the belief that times of great crisis can be opportunities and catalysts for renewal and transformation.
Indeed, the whole thrust of the bibilical narrative is the call to nurture hope in despair, to discern and to chart a new pathway into the future into which God beckons us.
In the wake of the crucifixion, for instance, the disciples humbled by their own failings learned to embrace vulnerability instead of power. It was their faith in the crucified and risen Jesus, not the size of their numbers, not the strength of their resources, not the popularity of their cause, that determined the outcome of their mission.
In fact, the beginning of the Church took place not at the moment of its success and achievement but at the moment of its greatest vulnerability. It was the powerlessness of the servant-master that was the key.
This is the inspiration for us today as we grapple with the unsettling and disconcerting situation. As we are subject to the dying and rising pattern of Christ, we learn to die to what is unnecessary or indeed unworthy of the Gospel.
Equally we learn to rise to what we are called to be, a community of faith, hope and love, a sacrament of mercy and compassion to the world. Our loss in many ways could be a blessing in disguise in that we learn to start afresh, we begin again from a position of humility, vulnerability and weakness.
The Word of God today helps us to come to terms with our present situation and live it with courage, faith and hope. It speaks of the call to be a beacon of light and a community that embodies God’s grace for the world.
In the first reading, the Israelites are challenged to be God’s covenanted people. After the painful but liberating journey out of Egypt, Moses reminded them that they must be true to the God of freedom and liberation.
The whole purpose of the Exodus is to be free from slavery and oppression. It is to be able to live as pilgrim people, journeying into the land of promise and witnessing to the God of freedom. They are to form a society, which would be the model for all the nations. This new society would be marked by the worship of the God of love, justice and compassion, and also by the care for the most vulnerable.
In the Gospel, the disciples of Jesus too are challenged to move beyond what they have known and where they have settled. It is the story which provides not only my episcopal motto but also the inspiration for me to become the more that I am meant to be. “Put out into the deep” means not to stay anchored in our comfort zones, not to be content with status quo, not to bury our talent like the fearful servant, but to take necessary risks, to maximise our potential and to be all we are capable of being.
In the words of the Galilee Song, “put out into the deep” means “to walk past the horizons that I know and to live beyond the fears that close me in”. When we go where the Spirit leads us, even to the extent of leaving our boats behind, like the disciples did, the results can be amazing.
This is the theme that Pope Francis often talks about. For him, living the Gospel has little to do with security, comfort, complacency and mediocrity. A self-serving and self-preserving mentality goes against the very nature of what it means to be a Christian. He challenged us not to dabble in mediocrity, not to prefer security and familiarity, not to cling to status quo at the expense of God’s comprehensive and radical dream for humanity.
The pope from the periphery wants us to go to the margins, to stay close to those on the edges of life.
It is the Church that dares to do what Jesus did; the Church that dares to live out his radical vision of love, inclusion and human flourishing; the Church that dares to challenge people’s ingrained attitudes, break social prejudices, and expand the boundaries of acceptance and love.
Dear friends, beginning teachers and principals,
Today, you are commissioned to cast your nets into the deep and to launch into a life of leadership, mission and service. It is a daunting task. But let us take heart knowing that God can bring new things out of the old and decayed.
New beginnings can emerge out of the ashes of destruction.
May we be strengthened to walk the journey of faith with one another and with those entrusted to our care.
May we learn to become servants of the Kingdom and visible signs of hope and sacraments of God’s light to them.