Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Third Sunday of Easter
Readings: Acts 5:27-41; Apocalypse 5:11-14; John 21:1-14
Diocesan synthesis of responses to Roman Synod
Sisters and brothers,
This Sunday, here at Our Lady of Lourdes, Seven Hills, we joyfully gather the fruits of the listening, discerning and synthesizing process that began six months ago in response to Pope Francis’ invitation. The so-called Synod on synodality is open to all the faithful with a particular emphasis on those at the margins of the Church and society. Thus, in itself, the Synod signals a new era and a new way of being Church. Even the name suggests that it is not just an event, certainly not a talkfest among the prelates. Rather the Synod is a template on how we the People of God can embody and share the Good News together: lay and cleric, men and women, young and old, able-bodied and disabled, straight and non-binary. Synodality captures the insights of the Second Vatican Council that we all take seriously our baptismal commitment and active discipleship in the world.
The Pope affirms that ‘this path of synodality’ is precisely what “God expects of the Church of the third millennium.” All of us are called to be active subjects of evangelization and missionary disciples. The Church, the People of God, should walk together, sharing the burdens of humanity, listening to the cry of the poor, cry of the earth and making a difference with the power of the Gospel.
The Word of God this Sunday draws us to a radical way of living and a radical way of being. Put quite simply, to follow Christ is to embrace an alternative mode of existence radically different from the default position of self-interest, the survival-oriented behaviour and the worldly pursuit of security, power and glory.
In the first reading, the enlightened disciples rejoiced for being able to suffer for the Gospel. We hear in the Acts of the Apostles how they were imbued with the new vision, which enabled them to see things in a different light. They were transformed into positive people, not because their circumstances changed but because they began to appreciate the Christian paradox. They were no longer concerned with their own ambitions and dreams. Rather, it was -as St Paul put it- “the love of Christ that impels us.”
The Gospel story also presents us with a lesson of strength not in short-lived bravado but in vulnerable trust. It tells of the unexpected storm and how the disciples came to recognise Jesus. Initially, they took fright and thought they had seen a ghost floating on the waters. Upon hearing the bidding of Jesus, Peter jumped off the boat and walked towards him. But his heroism was superficial. It was not unlike his shallow understanding of Jesus at Cesarea Philippi. There, he professed Jesus to be the Christ at one moment and distorted that profession the next when he tried to talk Jesus out of the cross.
Peter was taught an important lesson on the lake of Galilee. It was not physical strength, alpha-male bravado and capability so prevalent in a society that was based on the notion of the survival of the fittest. Rather, what enabled Peter to sustain his journey to Christ was the strength of faith, trust and surrender. It was the strength in gentleness and vulnerability that would see him through. He and his fellow disciples must unlearn the entrenched notion of power to dominate. Instead, they must follow Jesus in his way of trusting in God and acting in complete powerlessness.
Brothers and sisters,
Pope Francis has challenged us to embrace a new way of being Church with this Synod on synodality and beyond. Even though, we like the Jews of old are daunted by the prospect of the uncertain future, we are summoned by the Holy Spirit to walk a new Exodus. We are to move from the Church of the ordained to that of the baptised, from self-reference to openness, from splendour to simplicity, from triumphalism to humility, from a siege mentality to engagement with the world.
Here in Parramatta, this new Exodus journey has already been in motion. The synthesis affirms that synodality is well and truly established at various levels and in various ways. We are being energised by the culture of inclusion, respect for diversity and difference, partnership and collaboration. I am immensely proud of the way we have engaged with the Synod and the document that the writing group has produced. Let us renew our commitment to co-create with Pope Francis a Church that is fit-for-purpose going forward, one that is humble, transparent, accountable and faithful to the command to evangelise the world.
Jesus told Peter that when he is older, he will be led to places he’d rather not go. There is a sense that we as the Church are being led to the places that we’d rather not be. It’s the treacherous waters when we launch into the deep. Yet as the Lord invited Peter and the other disciples to follow him, we too must be prepared to walk beyond the old ways of being Church. May we have the courage to embody the humility, service, vulnerability and self-emptying love of Christ. May we be the new wineskins that God’s new wine can be poured in and shared with the world.