Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord in Year B 2018 with the Rite of Confirmation at St Raphael’s Slovenian Mission, Merrylands
13 May 2018
Dear friends in Christ,
There are critical turning points that can be described as watershed moments. They may be significant events in history such as the collapse of the Berlin Wall or 9/11. They may also be experiences of a personal nature like the discovery of a terminal illness, the arrival of a child or a permanent separation. We have all experienced these moments in varying degrees. My boat journey as a refugee was one of these dramatic times and it would be an understatement to say that it changed the course of my life for ever.
Today, we celebrate the Ascension of Christ, which marks a critical turning point for the disciples. It is now their turn to carry on the Kingdom Vision of Jesus and to enact the new future inaugurated by Him. They can no longer remain passive. Instead, they are challenged to do the works of Jesus. The Ascension, then, is a moment of transition. The church, the People of God, the Body of Christ, commissioned by Jesus and guided by the Holy Spirit, is now the visible presence of God here on earth.
The Word of God focuses on the mission of the church as the expression of the living power of the risen Jesus. The Acts of the Apostles recount the story of the Ascension in terms of the messianic figures in Israel. Jesus is taken up to heaven just like Elijah and Moses. But the Christian story does not end with his earthly disappearance. The Ascension actually marks the point at which the disciples must take up the mission begun by Jesus. There can be no idle looking up at the sky. Rather, as the two angelic messengers affirm, the time has come for them to go forth as witnesses “to the ends of the earth.”
This command is repeated in the Gospel. The risen Christ commissions the disciples to go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News to all creation. What does it mean to be the people of Good News? We find the answer when we look at the life, ministry and teaching of Jesus. To be the people of Good News means to form a community of faith, hope and love. We are to be a society, which is counter-cultural or antithetical to the dominant social system. We are called to practice an ethic of concern, care, support for one another so no one is excluded from the table or left behind. We are to be the salt and the leaven of the earth, meaning that we must live and act in the way of Jesus, which will lead to the transformation of the world.
Brothers and sisters,
The Royal Commission has shone a very uncomfortable spotlight on the church and its failure to live up to the vision and mandate of Christ. As a result, it has fallen from the privileged position in society and the power and influence that came with that status. Now, like Paul, who was led into a place of vulnerability after his fall in Damascus, we are undergoing a time of uncertainty and darkness until we can learn to see, act and relate in the way of Christ the humble servant. We should not fear this time. For it can be a great opportunity and a tremendous blessing in disguise. We need to remember that the church was not at its best when it reached the heights of imperial power in what was known as Christendom. The church was at its best when it was poor, persecuted and powerless.
The Good News invites us to live our watershed moments with faith and courage. As a church, we are invited to live this time of uncertainty. The church is being marginalised by the secular society. Yet there is no time to yearn for former glory or to claim victimhood in a hostile environment. We can be confident that God will bring about a purified and revitalised Church, not necessarily large and powerful, but a more authentic sacrament of God’s grace in the world. As individuals, we are called to constant conversion and renewal, especially by means of the adverse changes around us. We can indeed see adversity as a means of grace and transformation.
Let us not be afraid of embracing the new future inaugurated by Jesus. This is the meaning of the Resurrection and the Ascension of our Lord, the divine empowerment of his Gospel dream! Let us endeavour to follow the compassionate Jesus and strive to live up to the vision and mandate of Christ. The church is first and fore most an oasis of hope and Good News. We must therefore learn to be a soothing presence, a warmth of God’s care and a gentle reach of God’s hand, affirming, healing and uplifting.
May what we celebrate today serve to remind us of our commitment to the vision of Jesus which is to build God’s Kingdom on right relationships, peace, justice and love. Let us go forward in our mission to make a difference in the world, confident of the victory of Christ and his promise to be with us till the end of time.