Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year B 2018 with the Syro-Malabar Community at St Michael’s Church, Blacktown
Readings: Deut 28:1-12; John 12:20-26
14 October 2018
Dear sisters and brothers,
It is a great joy for me to celebrate with you this Sunday’s Eucharist in which we honour St Alphonsa, the great saint from the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. I was blessed to have visited her tomb during one of my many visits to India. In fact, as a Franciscan I have a spiritual affinity with her because St Alphonsa herself was a member of the Third Order of St Francis.
In India, unlike secular Australia, faith and spirituality are not just a private affair. Faith is very much communal. Faith is the heart and soul of society. Perhaps nowhere else this is obviously so as it is in Kerala, the most Christianised state in India. The Church in Australia and indeed across the world is enriched by the presence of many priests, religious and faithful of Indian origin. You have brought with you the gift of faith which was nurtured in the land made spiritually fertile by great Christian men and women like St Alphonsa.
We are very much removed from such an environment. Here, in fact, the society is at best neutral to our faith and at worst critical of the Church. Here too, we witness the erosion of the faith not simply by external pressures but even more so by the generational change in religious practices. In other words, the challenges don’t just come from outside. Catholics themselves, especially the young are questioning and even giving up their faith. Perhaps, what we need to reflect up today is not so much on the public expressions like the festivals, the parades and processions. In a new and inhospitable environment, we need to solidify and deepen our faith.
In the Gospel, Jesus speaks about the importance of vulnerability, the importance to take a risk, to give up the certainty of being a seed for the adventure of new life, new growth and new possibilities. The story begins with the Greeks or Gentiles wanting to meet Jesus. They had seen or heard of the many “signs” Jesus had done. For instance, he had healed the man born blind; he had raised Lazarus to life and he had made a triumphant entry into Jerusalem. These were all messianic “signs”, which pointed to the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah. The Gentiles were anxious to know who Jesus really was.
Yet ironically, their curiosity was satisfied in the way they had not expected. Instead of confirming the cult of his own personality Jesus talks about himself in terms of an anti-hero and a counter-cultural force. He uses the image of the grain in order to speak of his impending passion, death and resurrection. “Unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest”. Like many of his parables, these words of Jesus compel us to look at his whole life and impact in order to understand their meaning.
Jesus refuses the hero worship and the power over the people in the wake of his miracles and extraordinary deeds. He is not the Messiah one who dwells on success and feasts on popularity. We are reminded of the temptations that Jesus experienced in the desert at the start of his ministry. He was tempted to do spectacular things, to be powerful, dominant and in control. He rejected them and instead, chose the path of vulnerable trust, the path of an anti-hero, a humble suffering Messiah.
Brothers and sisters,
As followers of Jesus, we are challenged by the message and example of Jesus who lived his life fully for others. As disciples, we recognise that life worth living is life poured out for others, life that embraces pain, suffering and even death for the sake of the one we love. This is what we call the paradox of the Gospel. Paul reminds us that while Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, we proclaim Christ crucified. The cross is at the heart of Christian discipleship.
St Alphonsa was the saint who was deeply trained in the crucible of suffering. We recall how she experienced not only physical pain of great intensity, but also the spiritual suffering of being misunderstood and misjudged by others. But she constantly accepted all her sufferings with serenity and trust in God. She came to love suffering because she loved the suffering Christ. She learned to love the cross through her love of the crucified Lord.
Amid many pressing concerns in a new country, let us not lose sight of our spiritual legacy and our mission. Let us always carry with us the gift of faith that St Alphonsa exemplified for us. Let us pray that our lives may be firmly grounded in faith, which will enable us to discern God’s purpose for us. May we ever remain vigilant and focussed on doing God’s will in all things and in spite of all things.