Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Mass for the Ascension, 29 May 2022
Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:17-23; Luke 24:46-53
The courage to move into a new future
Dear friends in Christ,
“Australians have voted for change”. This is the unanimous verdict that came out of the federal election last weekend. While there are significant divisions and differences that exist in a free, diverse and pluralist democracy, what is decisively evident is the desire by the vast majority for a new future. We join the rest of the world in a global consciousness that it cannot be business as usual. It cannot be business as usual when it comes to big picture issues like diversity, equity, justice and sustainability. There is a sense in which we have arrived at a threshold moment and we cannot but have the courage to move into a new way of being together with one another and with the planet.
As a church, too, we are challenged to live this time of unprecedented change. We are commissioned to be the living presence of the risen Christ for others in creative ways. The pandemic has served as a dramatic warning that we cannot simply be content with the status quo.
The history of Christianity is replete with the courage and creativity in responding to the signs of the times. Our forebears sought a deeper identity and a fresher way of embodying the Gospel after every major threshold event. Thus, whether it was the banishment from the Jewish synagogues, the persecution by the imperial forces, the accommodation of the Gospel during the long reign of Christendom and even more recently, the demise of the cultural Christianity, the Church emerged afresh.
The Word of God today speaks of the passing of the old and the emergence of the new order. The Ascension marks a break with the past and a beginning of another era. It focuses on the mission of the Church as the expression of the living power of the risen Jesus. The disciples, initially, failed to recognize that the former expression of the divine had come to past. They still thought of it in terms of a physical and political reality. Their question “Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel” amounted to a nostalgia for a kind of Jewish exceptionalism.
Jesus directs them to a new embodiment of the divine. They are to preach the Good News not only in Jerusalem but to the ends of the earth. They are to seek and to be the presence of God’s kingdom beyond the human boundaries. Our Christian ID card contains not our blood type, gender, nationality, status but the mark of our love and service to others.
It is a daunting task to embody the divine and to be the Body of Christ for the world in which we live. But we are inspired by the example of the early Christian community. In the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, they showed to the world what it was like to be a force for social transformation. Against the ruthless imperial system, they formed an alternative society under God’s rule, a community of radical inclusivity, equity and organized charity.
Brothers and sisters,
Scriptures today encourage us to discern God’s will in crisis and to boldly walk into the future God calls us into. Thus, the critical moments of our lives, individually and collectively can be new horizons of possibility, for us but also beyond us, to future generations and to the world that God loves.
This week is also dedicated to “Laudato Si” action program throughout the Church on the 7th anniversary of this prophetic encyclical. Individuals and organisations are invited to achieve the practical goals of ecological living such as adopting renewable energy, reducing our carbon footprint, living a simple lifestyle, showing solidarity with indigenous peoples, defending all life etc… This is being party political or espousing the fashion of the age, the zeitgeist. Rather, it is being faithful to our mission of making the Gospel alive to our times.
We must have the courage to move to the new future where God beckons. The time has come for Christians to show the alternative pathway of hope, justice and sustainability against the ingrained culture of denial, fear and defence of the status quo. In the world where one is motivated by short-term gains, Christians work on a long-term plan for a shared destiny of hope, communion and life for all. This is the legacy of Jesus and his Gospel.
It is a paradox that the Ascension was the trigger event for the undertaking of this legacy. It fortified the Church’s commitment to be the visible presence of Jesus. It launched the Christian movement as a force to be reckoned with in the world, a force not to dominate but to serve, not to rule but to transform from within.
Let us not be afraid of embracing and enacting the new future inaugurated by Jesus. Let us be resolute in our commitment to be the sign of God’s kingdom and the movement for transformation. St Paul reminds us in the second reading of the hope we have. 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.