Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Solemnity of Pentecost at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
4 June 2017
Dear friends in Christ,
What a difference the Holy Spirit can make! When Pope Benedict announced his shock resignation in 2013, we were adrift, like I was adrift in a boat on the stormy sea. The Barque of Peter was truly launched into uncharted waters. We felt we were in dire straights. The mood wasn’t good. And yet somehow that mood was changed remarkably with the arrival of a rather unlikely pope. God does indeed work in surprising, unpredictable and mysterious ways.
The feast of Pentecost that we are celebrating today is also a powerful demonstration of God’s grace working through human frailty and vulnerability. The disciples of Jesus by all accounts were a bunch of ordinary, unremarkable and disparate individuals. They never really understood the vision of Jesus. Their shortcomings were on display as the drama of the crucifixion unfolded. Then something happened to them in that upper room at Pentecost. They were transformed. Everything about them: their outlook on life, their attitudes, their behaviour changed fundamentally. They came to understand who Jesus truly was and what it meant to be his disciple. From then on, they were driven by only one thing: it was the passion for the Kingdom that Jesus had ushered in.
The Good News is that the Holy Spirit continues to work in the world. His grace enables us to live fully and to make a difference to others in spite of our frailty and vulnerability. He turns weakness into strength; folly into wisdom; and defeat into victory. Time and again, he challenges us to abandon our comfort zones, to cast aside our assumptions, to expand our limited horizons and to widen our perceptions. Like the Israelites of old, we are being called time and again to stretch our love to the extent that it measures up to God’s love, which is expansive, universal and all-embracing.
In this our time and in our culture, we Catholics find ourselves in a crisis of relevance, alienation and even despondency. Like the exiled God’s people of old, their captivity seems to become our captivity. The traditions and the signposts of yesterday disappear from view and yet the hopes of tomorrow are not yet realised. Like the people of God in the exile, we are being led to a place of great trial and temptation, a place until now untrodden and uncharted.
Like them, we are called to go forward with courage and faith trusting that God will bring about new life out of our barrenness, light out of our darkness. In fact, it was the exile that was the catalyst for a new Israel; it formed a new consciousness of who God was and what it truly meant to be his people; it brought about the most transforming experience that profoundly shaped the faith of the renewed Israel. Perhaps, we need not fear the long dark winter before us. Rather, we need to live through it in hopeful anticipation of a spring of new life. This time of diminishment and crisis of ours may also be a catalyst for renewal.
Jesus showed us the way to new life and it was by embracing the vulnerability of suffering and death. God’s grace is manifested in weakness. We see this pattern in the journey into the Promised Land, in the exile, the reconstitution of the remnant faithful. We see this pattern in the entire salvation history and it is epitomised in the total self-emptying and self-giving of Jesus on the cross. Such is the distinguishing feature of Christianity and indeed our DNA. Hence, the only way that we learn to be the visible sign of God’s grace and the sacrament of God’s light to the world is to live our own vulnerability, to seek strength through humble faith, to pattern ourselves on the dying and rising again of Christ in all facets of life.
We are living in a world that at times resembles the division at Babel rather than the harmony at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. In a world and a society that are increasingly hostile and intolerant towards differences in culture, race, religion, social background etc… We need to be connected with the same spirit who transcends all divisions.
Thus, Pentecost commits us to being messengers of peace and reconciliation. Pentecost challenges us to be a church, which is a model for the wider society. In other words, we are called to be a community where the spirit of unity in diversity is evident. We need to demonstrate in practical terms that our common faith, common baptism, common spirit, does bind us in a bond of love and friendship.
At Pentecost, Mary and the disciples of Jesus gathered and discerned their future in the light of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. The Holy Spirit, promised by Jesus, descended up them and gave them a breath of fresh air and a source of great hope. As we gather today and discern our life of faith, may we also be bolstered by the fresh energy of the Holy Spirit. May we journey forward and witness to the reign of God, welcoming all peoples and cultures that Jesus called us to embrace.