Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Lent Year A 2020 at Vigil Mass at Padre Pio Parish, Glenmore Park
Readings: Gen 12:1-4; 2Tim 1:8-10; Matthew 17:1-9
7 March 2020
Strengthened to walk the journey of full transformation
I suspect many Catholics would find it difficult to use the words of St Peter in the Gospel today in order to describe their feelings with the Church: “It is wonderful for us to be here”. Even for those who get along with their local pastor or participate in their parish, the constant negative publicity directed at the institutional Church would be disheartening or worse, demoralising.
If the truth is told, the Church is in unprecedented, uncharted territory. We are being reduced in number and impact, some would say, an irrelevant minority; we are being exiled by the secular culture in which we live. We no longer enjoy the respect we once had. The sexual abuse crisis has made sure of that. Everywhere we look, there seems to be insurmountable problems. Like St Paul says to the Corinthians: “We are troubled on every side.”
We feel like God’s covenanted people on their way to the Promise Land. They wanted to go back to Egypt when the journey became too hard. Yet, the spirit of God called them forth, enabled them to march forward and transformed them in the process. This same spirit is with us today and he also encourages us to walk the unknown pathways ahead, with courage, with perseverance and with trust in the God of history.
Scriptures today give us a poignant lesson in overcoming our fears and in living our lives with courage, vision and hope. In the first reading from Genesis, Abram – a name which means great father – was called to undertake a journey of transformation: he would leave his familiar surroundings and people in order to become God’s instrument for a renewed creation. He would become Abraham, meaning “Father of the multitude”.
Abraham’s journey was a giant leap of faith, a leap into the unfamiliar, insecure and vulnerable. Those of us who had to leave our home countries, especially as refugees, would know what it was like to take the leap of faith. Abraham abandoned every form of human security and placed his trust solely in God. In the end, he became the great icon of our Judeo-Christian tradition of going beyond the known horizons. He epitomises the pilgrim faith.
Abraham’s journey of transformation through faith is also the lesson Jesus teaches his disciples through the story of the transfiguration. It took place at a critical moment. It was a bridge between the Epiphany and the Passion. On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus had taught them by words and examples what it meant to follow him. In contrast with the powers that be, he had opted for the road less travelled, the unpopular pathway of humility, service and selflessness. The disciples, however, were still transfixed on power and glory.
In the transfiguration, they were given a moment of encouragement but also an unmistakable message. “This is my Beloved Son, listen to him”. These words can be understood not only as a rebuff of Peter’s suggestion to build three tents, but also as an invitation to follow Jesus in his imminent suffering, passion and death. The transfiguration is not something the disciples could hold on and forget about their commitment to follow the difficult remainder of the journey with Jesus. Rather it is meant to empower them to be more faithful and persevering. It is meant to give them new courage to walk the journey that would ultimately prove to be the ultimate test of Christian discipleship.
Our faith today is also being put to the test as that of Abraham and the disciples. Like them, we are challenged to overcome our fears and doubts. We are challenged to walk the journey of transformation by living out the demands of our pilgrim faith. This requires of us to have the courage to let go of the familiar and secure, the courage to launch into the deep, with everything that it entails. The cross beckons us to move from fear to faith, from self-interest to common good, from security to trust, from dominion to communion. Collectively, Pope Francis has committed the whole Church move from clericalism to service, from self-reference to openness, from splendour to simplicity, from triumphalism to humility, from a siege mentality to engagement, from confronting to listening, from imposing rules to accompanying with love.
The coronavirus crisis has laid bare how the world around us is afflicted with fear, self-interest, security and dominion. As we gather in faith, we commit ourselves again to be guided by the wisdom of God in Christ. We pray that in this Lenten season, we may respond generously and trustingly to the invitation to overcome our fears and doubts, to be transformed by the journey of discipleship and to follow the humble footsteps of Christ with hope and perseverance.