Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2021, 14 November 2021
Readings: Daniel 12:1-3; Hebrews 10:11-14; Mark 13:24-32
Discerning and living the apocalyptic vision of Christ
Dear sisters and brothers,
We are approaching the end of the liturgical year. The scriptures for this period often use apocalyptic language to describe the fulfilment of God’s plan and to call us to a spiritual reawakening in order to be alive to what God is doing.
When we hear the word apocalypse, we think of horror, war, destruction, death and violence. However, the biblical meaning of apocalypse has to do with an experience of divine disclosure. This is why the Apocalypse is also known as the Book of Revelation. St Paul had this experience on the road to Damascus. The scales fell off his eyes and he was able to see again. This vision was not simply physical sight, but a deep spiritual conversion that enabled Paul to turn away from the lies he had lived and to pivot his new life in Christ.
Thus, dramatic events such as the pandemic are not times of despair, fearful disengagement and increased security. Rather it is a time of purposeful discernment, intentional and engaged discipleship. Crisis awakes in the disciples a sense of deep listening that leads to alignment with God’s will and courageous action. It is an opportunity for us to give joyful witness to what we believe.
In the first reading, we hear the prophecy of Daniel regarding divine judgment at the end time. The Book of Daniel was written during the great turmoil in Israel. The foreign ruler Antiochus was ruthless in enforcing imperial rule. He outlawed many Jewish traditions and erected the statue of Zeus in the temple. This led to the revolt by the Maccabees and many terrible things occurred.
It was out of this context that Daniel, the Jewish hero, came onto the scene. He was a symbol of resistance and a model of faithfulness. He reassured the people that God would see justice done in the end despite evidence to the contrary. The just would rise to everlasting life while the wicked to shame and disgrace. Like the Book of Job, Daniel contains a deeper understanding of the life of faith which goes beyond the temporal blessings of longevity, prosperity and posterity.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples to be alert to what is going on around them and not to lose the apocalyptic vision that he alone offers. He speaks of the signs of the apocalypse such as the sun would be darkened, the moon would lose its brightness and so on.
In their historical context, these signs refer to such events as the destruction of the temple, the persecution of Christians and their expulsion from much of Palestine. In fact, earlier in the same chapter, Jesus has predicted that “not a stone will be left on another”. He has warned his disciples not to be dazzled by the grandeur of the temple and instead to look for God beyond man-made symbols to the deeper reality of where God inhabits.
“Take the fig tree as a parable”. With this, Jesus invites us to look for signs of new life where it is less apparent and perhaps less seductive. He cautions us to see more than what meets the eye. Salvation will not come from where people say it is. It will not be in fear, resentment and hatred. Nor will it come from the false security, wealth and fame. Instead, the apocalyptic vision Jesus offers us is quite unambiguously counter-intuitive and counter-cultural. It goes against the grain of human nature and the prevalent attitude of society.
We may not experience the kind of shocking violence, trauma and chaos like the Jews under Antiochus or the early Christians. However, they inspire us with their commitment to walk the narrow path of self-sacrifice, faith and hope. In the world where there is much clamour and commotion, we need to be able to embrace and to live the alternative consciousness of the Gospel or the counter-cultural wisdom of God.
Today is the World Day for the Poor that Pope Francis instituted some years ago. It serves as a reminder to us that true faith is expressed in deeds of love, inclusion and solidarity. The Gospel impels us to be on the side of the vulnerable, to fight for their share of the earth’s resources, actualise God’s justice, mercy and compassion for them.
Today, with the installation of Fr Regie as a new pastor, we celebrate a new chapter in the life of this parish community here at Blacktown. I thank you for your partnership with him, Fr John Paul and Fr Chadi in carrying out the mission of the Church in this time and in this place. I am confident that he will rise to the new challenge and like a good steward, he will work with you in bringing forth treasures both old and new, for the benefit of the community.
Scriptures challenge us to be bold, trustful, alert and open to God’s grace manifested in all vicissitudes of life. Like the disciples of Jesus, we commit ourselves to walk as pilgrims open to be formed and enriched by the journey. Let us pray that we may not take refuge in false securities of prosperity, status and power. Rather as a community of faith, we take the less travelled road of selfless, loving and life-giving discipleship. May we witness to the God who hears the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth.