Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Second Week of Advent Year C 2018 and the World Youth Day 2019 Commissioning Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
Readings: Baruch 5:1-9; Phil 1:4-6; Luke 3:1-6
9 December 2018
In tune with God’s purpose for the world
Today, it is with great joy that we have come to celebrate this Commissioning Mass for World Youth Day pilgrims. Like the disciples after Pentecost, we are commissioned to go to all the world and proclaim the Good News. Thanks to the Pope from the periphery, we will be really going to the ends of the earth this time in Panama, especially from Australia.
Pope Francis also says that he wants young people to make a mess and even to challenge the status quo, especially when that status quo is less than what God wants for us as individuals and as a community. In many ways, the Church in our country is at a crossroads. This is why we need to discern God’s purpose for us through the Plenary Council 2020.
The Church needs a bit of shaking up so that it may more alert and responsive to the presence, the voice and the movement of the Spirit in history and in the lived realities of human experience.
Otherwise, it will fail to be a living Church for people, especially those who struggle for acceptance, recognition, equality and a place at the table. We need to be challenged and shaken up in order that we may be faithful, authentic, committed to our mission of being the sacrament of God’s love and the visible face of Christ in the world.
Scriptures this second Sunday in Advent speak words of encouragement, strength and hope to us in times of turmoil and upheaval. They remind us that God is always active in history and it is our duty to discern his purpose for us through the changes around us.
In the first reading, the prophet Baruch comforts his sorrowful people. It is a speech that points them beyond the gloom and doom. During the long and harrowing exile, the faith of the Jewish people was put to the test. Many drifted away. Others persevered more or less in the practice of the covenant.
Baruch seeks to galvanise them with fresh hope. He assures them that the captivity would end and God would bring them back to their homeland. In a burst of poetic joy, Baruch describes the jubilation of homecoming captives. Jerusalem will be stripped of sorrow and wrapped in the cloak of integrity and the diadem of glory. It will become a focal point for all the people of the world. God will show her splendour to every nation under heaven.
This is a sobering and poignant lesson for modern believers who are also beset with disillusionment and fear. Like the Jewish exiles of old, we are tempted to give in to the despair that arises from the supposed impossibility of change. We also feel numbed and overwhelmed by the seemingly unchangeable status quo.
The prophet shows us the way forward. It consists in diligent discernment, faithful discipleship, courageous action all of which align us to God’s plan and purpose. We have much to learn from our ancestors in faith. Like the new Jerusalem that Baruch prophesies, the Church must shine like the beacon of light. We must be the presence of the Kingdom where hope, love and life prevail for all.
The Gospel story is a source of further encouragement for us. It tells us of the way God changes history through humble and faithful servants. It begins with the prevalence and the invincibility of the status quo. Caesar had reigned for 15 years which was like an eternity because life expectancy was less than 40 years then. (It is even more remarkable in the Australian context, given the quick turnover of prime ministers!).
The dominant oppressive system was entrenched and invincible through powerful characters like Tiberius, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Annas and Caiaphas. Yet in that seemingly unchangeable environment, God planted a seed through John the Baptist. He was the voice of truth, hope and love in the wilderness. He spoke God’s word which defied the status quo and subverted the dominant force.
Like Baruch before him, the Baptist was the lone voice that amplified God’s message. His critique of the imperial system became the divine narrative. Both of them challenge us today to not go with the flow and fall victim to fear and despair. They point us to the active presence and power of God in history. They encourage us to live as God’s faithful disciples and instruments for the world. For just as the mighty are brought down and the humble lifted, salvation history will favour those who align to God’s plan in spite of the pressure to the contrary.
Dear young friends,
The Church in Parramatta is tremendously encouraged by your youthful enthusiasm. We commission you to go to the WYD Panama and enrich yourselves with that unique experience.
Like St Paul, we pray that “your love may increase and never stop improving your knowledge and deepening your perception so that you can always recognise what is best”. The Church needs you to be the ambassadors for Christ.
The Church needs you to be the messengers of God’s truth, hope and love in the world ruled by fear and despair. May you be true to your call of faithful discipleship and generous mission as you go forth living, witnessing and sharing the Good News of Christ.