Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 2022 Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta Commissioning Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
Readings: Jeremiah 7:23-28; Psalm 94(95):1-2, 6-9; Luke 11:14-23
Leadership as vehicle of the Gospel for human flourishing
Dear friends and colleagues in ministry of leadership,
On behalf of the Church in Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains, I welcome you and give thanks for your appointment as system leaders, school leaders and teachers. You have joined not only an organisation called Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta (CEDP) but also by definition a ministry of leadership and service for the Church. Even if you are not Catholic or not fervently so, you have embraced a vocation that is a sacred calling to form students and communities under your care according to the values of the Gospel. You have been called to accompany others on the journey to relational wholeness and transformation just as Jesus the teacher who exemplified this accompaniment for us.
We are living in a time that requires radical shift from the “business as usual” approach. It is time to embrace a new paradigm of equitable, sustainable, harmonious, shared life with and for all. I believe that as educators, we have the opportunity to form a new generation that values the common good more than individual success. Just as the Pope calls for a new politics of inclusion in the light of the systemic inequalities in the world, we also need an education that forms young people into men and women of deep empathy, solidarity and communion as opposed to individualism and self-interest which is at the core of our Christian tradition.
The Word of God presents a hope-filled vision of the world where God envisions a different way of being and relating for his people. We are called to be a model community where human flourishing, transformation and wholeness for all is not only desirable but indeed possible.
In the first reading, Jeremiah calls his fellow Jews to authentic living of the covenant in the unsettling and challenging time. The exile has been devastating and debilitating. In such times, people can turn inwards and siloed. Nostalgia can foster inertia and stifle innovation. For fear paralyses and courage galvanises. Jeremiah warns the exiles not to repeat this pattern of behaviour on the part of their ancestors. It is not easy to learn to adapt to new ways. Yet the prophet’s message to them is clear: They can no longer do business as usual. They must align their attitude and behaviour in favour of God’s revelation through signs of the times. They must see life and live it differently instead of turning to apathy and indifference.
In the Gospel story, Jesus faces a very hostile and cynical audience who fundamentally opposes his vision of God. He is accused of using the power of the devil Beelzebul to heal the possessed. Yet he is authentic to the core when confronted with an impossible situation. His answer is as wise and deep as the one he gave on paying taxes to Caesar. “If it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.”
The image of the finger is interesting in that it reminds us of the instances in the Old Testament where the power of God is manifested. For instance, the magicians of Pharaoh cried out in fear that the finger of God had overcome their magic. In other words, while his opponents expected a show of force, Jesus came as an anti-hero and manifested himself in humble ways. He was someone who draws strength through relationships and vulnerability rather than through individual heroics and power.
Dear friends and colleagues in ministry,
We are living in a time of diminishment as far as the church’s size and influence are concerned, at least here in Australia. But if the kingdom is like leaven and yeast, then size, numbers and status are not as important as the quality of our witness. The Church is not meant primarily to be a service or business provider but a sacrament of the Kingdom, which is invisible and unquantifiable. Perhaps we should learn to shrink the mega church mentality and grow the Kingdom mentality instead.
But then again, the shrinking is being done for us whether we like it or not anyway. Remember that film “Honey, I Shrunk The Kids”. We are being shrunk to become a smaller church and hopefully a more humble and authentic sacrament of the Kingdom. We live in uncertain and challenging times. We may be returning to the earlier times in terms of being a marginalised or even unpopular minority. But if we follow the example of our ancestors and the early Church in being an alternative society, a community of justice, inclusivity, solidarity, prayer and support, then it is the future worth dedicating our lives to.
May we grow in our authentic discipleship, in our service and in our capacity to be the Kingdom builders. We are privileged to be partners with God’s plan for a shared destiny of hope, communion and life for all. We are proud to continue the ethos of inclusivity and offer Catholic education for all, especially the disadvantaged. May your service as empowering leaders be a source of blessing for many.