Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Wednesday after the Third Sunday of Easter in Year C 2019, ACBC Plenary, Melbourne
Readings: Acts 8:1-8; John 6:35-40
8 May 2019
“It is wonderful for us to be here”. These words of St Peter at the transfiguration express our own sense of wonder, gratitude and appreciation as we gather together.
Like the disciples at the critical juncture on their journey of faith and discipleship, we seek to be nourished by the experience of being with Christ, deepening our relationship with him, growing in our discipleship and ultimately sharing his mission.
Recent events have caused consternation, confusion and distress to many of us. In fact, rather than being on the mountain with Jesus, we feel more like the scattered, frightened and disillusioned disciples after his crucifixion.
But even at that moment when they were humbled by their own failings, they learned to embrace and live the vulnerable trust and the powerlessness of the Servant-Master. It was their faith in him, 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 glory 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 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 losses 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 Acts of the Apostles presents us with a small and vulnerable group of believers, which emerged from the turbulent period following the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus.
We are told that this early Church was poor, few in numbers, marginalised by the dominant society and persecuted by the power that be. Yet, it was a powerhouse of prayer, love and solidarity. They showed to the world what it was like to live with fraternal concern, compassion and communion.
In today’s episode, we learn that the persecution that threatened their existence turned out to be a catalyst for a new and unprecedented growth. The Gospel was brought to towns and villages beyond Jerusalem. The disciples left the centre of power and went to the periphery. Indeed, this would be the pattern of the spread of Christianity, which was constantly challenged to break new ground.
In the Gospel, Jesus speaks of transformation by means of the gift of himself. He declares that he is the new manna that nourishes and gives the fullness of life. “I am the living bread come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world”.
In the previous episode, Jesus fed a hungry crowd with the loaves and fishes. But this meal was not meant simply to satisfy their physical hunger. Like the manna of old, the miracle of the bread was meant to foreshadow the real nourishment that only he could provide.
Manna in the desert foreshadows the real food of life that Jesus would give to us at the table of the Eucharist. Manna was food for the exodus from slavery; but Jesus is the food for the new exodus into freedom, liberation and wholeness, which satisfies the deeper hunger of the soul.
Dear brother bishops,
We live in uncertain and challenging times. We have a formidable task of rebuilding the Church’s reputation, credibility and most of all its moral stature in the wake of the sexual abuse crisis. Now is the time, the favourable moment or in biblical language, the kairos for us to join with Pope Francis in repairing and restoring the Body of Christ.
Now is the time for us to rebuild the Church not necessarily into a proud and powerful institution reminiscent of some bygone era. Rather, our task during this time of cleansing and purification is to become what we are meant to be: salt of the earth and light of the world.
The Church is entrusted with the task of feeding and sustaining the world with the life force of Jesus Christ, the true bread from heaven. Let us pray that like the early Church, which was poor, persecuted and few in numbers, we may recover our role as a beacon of hope in the world.
Today, as we undergo a process of purification, may it be a time of deepening of commitment, of grounding in our core values and of discerning what needs to die and what needs to rise.
Then we can embody the Good News and spread its joy to the world.