Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 1st Sunday of Lent Year A 2020 with the Rite of Election at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
Readings: Gen 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Rom 5:12-19; Mat 4:1-11
1 March 2020
Called to radical conversion and faithful discipleship
Dear brothers and sisters,
With the celebration of Ash Wednesday, we begin a season of Lent which is meant to be a journey of renewal and transformation. The 40 days of Lent remind us of the 40 years that God’s people wandered in the wilderness before reaching the Promise Land. This epic journey, known in the Bible as the Exodus, formed our ancestors in faith more than the destination itself. For they were purified and cleansed of all that was unworthy of God. They grew not only in their understanding of who God was but also what it meant to be His people. The 40 years in the wilderness helped them live as a humble, patient, faithful people. They were formed into an alternative society under God’s rule that was an antidote to the oppressive and exploitative system in Egypt. They were set apart from others by lives and relationships of fraternal concern, compassion and communion instead of ruthless exploitation and dominion.
The Lenten season serves us well in challenging us to embark on the journey of conversion. Lent of course reminds us of the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness. Whereas the people of God – like Adam and Eve – faltered in the face of temptation, Jesus remained steadfast, firmly grounded and utterly committed to the way that God had envisaged for him.
Lent therefore invites us to live the wilderness experience of Jesus, to walk the same long and hard road with him to Jerusalem and to embrace a discipleship of humility, weakness and vulnerability.
The Gospel tells us about Jesus being tempted three times. First, the temptation to turn stones into bread is essentially the temptation to opt for the quick fix and the easy way out. I bet you have been tempted in this way many a time. It’s in our human nature. We want to be in control and to have everything at our disposal. Jesus shows us an alternative. “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”. To put it in another way, we must seek greater things than what is driving our consumer society. We need to nurture the spirit, develop solidarity with those who suffer, rouse our conscience and be open to the ultimate mystery, which is God.
The second temptation is to be the superhero. It’s the cult of popularity, which is rampant in our success-driven society. Jesus does not buy into this illusion. He does not throw himself down from the parapet of the temple or later, the cross. He shows us the way of enduring love. He is the antihero who rode on the back of the donkey and immersed himself totally in the coalface realities of pain, suffering and social isolation for the sake of the Kingdom.
Finally, Jesus is tempted to have power and glory. But he rejects the devil’s way and holds fast to the way of God. The seduction of greatness is one that not only the early disciples of Jesus found it hard to resist. It is a perennial temptation that time and again Christians individually as collectively have succumbed to. In fact, the history of imperial Christendom shows that power, dominance, privilege, and clerical control have characterised our attitudes and practices more than service, self-sacrifice, vulnerability and powerlessness of the Humble Servant. Our Lenten call today is to return to the heart of Christian discipleship.
We need to be purified of all that is the antithesis of the Gospel spirit. Equally, we need to convert to the humble and servant Christ, one who came not to be served but to serve and to give His life for all. As disciples of Jesus, we must not settle into complacency and forget our task of being the changing agent in the world, a critical yeast in critical time.
The lesson that Jesus taught us in the desert is to put God’s intention over above personal comfort and satisfaction. When we are ruled by prosperity, security and self-interest, we forget how to be morally indignant at injustice, exploitation and violence. When we are too comfortable, too settled, we see no need; we feel no discomfort; we hear no summons to God’s vision for the Church and for the world.
You are the living proof of God’s mysterious and surprising ways. Your commitment and entry into the life of the Church is a source of encouragement and hope for us. You are the proof that Christ is dying and rising again in our midst. I do not mean that in a merely numbers game. No, it is much more than that.
Pope Francis said that our business is not primarily about conversions but spreading the fragrance of the Gospel. May you be permeated and enlivened throughout so that you may in turn spread the beauty of God’s love in Christ. May everything we do be inspired or grounded in the one who came to serve and not to be served.
Let us pray for these candidates and their families as they respond to God’s call to being disciples of Jesus. Let us pray for each and every one of us as we endeavour to live the call of the Christian discipleship in an age of mistrust and scepticism. May the God who accompanies His people lead us out of darkness into the new dawn of hope.