Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for Friday of the 22nd Week in Ordinary Time in Year B 2018 on the occasion of the Annual Mass for the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine at Good Shepherd Parish, Plumpton
8 September 2018
When Pope Francis began his pontificate, the people gathered at St Peter’s Square and many of them carried banners that read “Go and rebuild my Church”.
It was of course a reference to St Francis’ dream in which he was told to rebuild the Church that was falling to ruins. In the beginning, the saint understood the dream quite literally. He set himself to repair the physical structure of the Church.
It was only later on that he came to appreciate God’s command more deeply. From that point onwards, he sought to repair the Church as the broken Body of Christ. He did so by living a Christian life radically centred on the teaching and example of Christ.
He and his friars came to reject all forms of power, riches and honour. They called the whole Church, which was deeply mired in the imperial model of upward mobility to go back to the original inspiration of Christ and the early Christian community.
Pope Francis, like his namesake, has dedicated himself to the task of renewing the Church from within. His humble, poor and open manner of life coupled with his listening servant leadership has challenged all of us to get back to the core message of the Gospel.
It is as if the new wine is being poured into new wineskins. The new wine of God’s unconditional love, boundless mercy, radical inclusivity and equality is being poured into new wineskins of humility, mutuality, compassion and powerlessness.
The old wineskins of triumphalism, splendour, self-reference and rigidity moulded in the insular culture of Christendom are broken. The fresh style of Pope Francis is indicative of the new era of hope, even if we are struggling to find our way in the emerging and unfamiliar landscape.
Today, we find ourselves at the moment in history where the Church is in serious crisis. It may not lie in ruins physically like the old church in which St Francis prayed. But in many ways, the Church as the Body of Christ is broken and wounded. The Church’s reputation, moral credibility and trust capital are effectively shattered in the wake of the sexual abuse crisis along with the vestiges of the old fortress, insulate, triumphalist, clericalist church.
Now is the time we join forces with Pope Francis in repairing and restoring the Body of Christ. Now is the time for us to rebuild the Church as a beacon of hope for the world by living the radical vision of love, justice, compassion and solidarity.
In the first reading, Paul reminds us that we are servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. It is not by our ulterior motive but by our humble service that we can channel to others what is expected of stewards. In other words, the messengers have to live the message before they can be effective bearers of the Good News.
In the Gospel, Jesus challenges the Pharisees and scribes on the discipline of fasting. The latter often observed the external requirements of the law while neglecting its internal transformation. Jesus condemns this shallow and self-serving religion, which at worst becomes an accessory to our public image and at best keeps us from growing.
He in turn challenges us to practice a holiness that goes to the heart, the holiness that has to do with integrity, love and service, the holiness that touches the depth of who we are and connects us with the humanity of one another. The holiness in the Kingdom is not measured externally by how many good deeds or how much fasting, praying or almsgiving. It is rather a matter of transforming one’s interior attitude and behaviour. This is why Jesus compares this interior attitude to a new wineskin able to receive the new wine of the Kingdom.
This Eucharist is a thanksgiving to God for your active, faithful and generous discipleship. As Confraternity of Christian Doctrine volunteers, you bring the new wine of God’s love and mercy to the hearts of the young people.
You meet them as they are; you share your knowledge of God with them; you enrich them not only with the gift of the head but more so with the gift of the heart.
Your faith lived in the crucible of everyday life, with all its trials and tribulations, its joys and sorrows is the best gift that one can share with others. I am tremendously indebted to you for being the heralds of the Good News. God only knows the impact of your ministry to the young people in our diocese.
Pope Francis reminded us that our business is not primarily about converting people but spreading the fragrance of the Gospel.
It is the quality of our lived faith that makes a difference to others. May you be permeated and enlivened throughout so that you may in turn spread the beauty of God’s love in Christ. May everything we do, must be inspired or grounded, in the one who came to serve and not to be served.