Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Fifth Sunday of Easter
Readings: Acts 14:21-27; Apocalypse 21:1-5; John 13:31-35
Becoming agents of the Gospel in the footsteps of Mary
Sisters and brothers,
I welcome all of you who have come from near and far to this Schoenstatt Shrine. I welcome especially the Pilgrim Mother Coordinators who will be re-commissioned during this Mass in order to be apostles in the Schoenstatt tradition. You are sent forth from this sanctuary to be God’s instruments of peace, justice, compassion and love.
Indeed, that is the missionary call that all of us received by virtue of our baptism and confirmation. We are meant to be salt of the earth and light for the world. The pandemic has exposed a grossly inadequate system of the trickle-down economy, including the failure to protect and care for the elderly, refugees, migrant workers, the precariously employed, the poor and the vulnerable. At a time when the global structures of human community are faltering, the world needs more than ever the witness of a Gospel-inspired community united in its effort to honour the dignity of every human person, to serve the common good and live as one with God’s creation.
The Word of God this Sunday motivates us to build a society that reflects the divine dream of a new heaven and new earth. God in Christ summons us to practice an ethic of concern, care, support for one another. We are meant to be a community of faith, which is counter-cultural or antithetical to the dominant social system.
The Acts of the Apostles presents us with a picture of the early Christian community, which is small in number, poor in resources and yet incredibly generous, courageous, outward-looking and even boundary-breaking. Earlier episodes focus on their internal cohesion in the face of external pressure and persecution. They embraced radical solidarity. They all sold their possessions and shared the proceeds in common.
In today’s account, we are told of a watershed moment. They were no longer a Jewish sect. They had done something quite momentous. Paul and Barnabas were the first missionaries who had gone the geographical and racial confines of their known world. They shared the Good News with the Gentiles and even made them equal members within their group.
This ground-breaking event was not without controversy as we learn later of the dispute between Paul and Peter concerning circumcision and admission of non-Jews. What the early Church shows us is that faith is not static but alive. Each generation of Christians needs to discern how to apply the teachings and examples of Christ in their particular environment. The Christian movement would have been irrelevant if it had not had the courage to take the vision of Jesus beyond its cultural and historical settings. Today, that same vision of radical love, acceptance, embrace, compassion, and solidarity must guide us.
The Gospel gives us a moving account of Jesus’ farewell discourse with his disciples. After Judas had gone to set in motion the drama of betrayal, arrest and crucifixion, Jesus spoke words of comfort and reassurance to them. There was no fear and anxiety on his part but rather a sense of fulfillment and purpose. Jesus exhorted his disciples to live by the example he had shown them. “I give you a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.”
The command to love God and neighbour, of course, was not new. It had been the core teaching of Judaism. But it was the way Jesus lived it out that had the wedge of newness. In his embrace of the most vulnerable, despised and marginalised, Jesus presented a whole new way of seeing, acting and relating. He embodied the God who loves without limits and empowers wounded humanity for a life of grace and dignity.
Brothers and sisters,
There is much that we can learn from the early Christian community. As we lose much of what we have accumulated over the centuries, including our strength and resources, let us not be afraid to learn anew the trust and love without limits. St John in the second letter speaks of the passing of the old and the emergence of the new heaven and new earth. It may be understood as a metaphor for what we are going through. The Church must die to whatever is unworthy of the Gospel and rise to new and fresh ways of being companion to people of today.
Mary gave us an example of trust and courage in times of disruption and turbulence. She aligned her heart and mind to God’s unfolding plan. We must do the same as a community of disciples. We must have the humility and courage to reset ourselves once again to the self-emptying journey of the humble Servant-Leader rather than reverting to fear and defense of status quo.
Let us pray that we followers of Christ may not grow stale and insipid. Like him, may we have the courage to leave our security, to accompany, to serve and to empower all people to live life more fully. In this way, may we be an agent of the Gospel and able to transform our society into what God intends for all. Let us pray that we have the faith and courage of Mary in responding to unmet needs. May Mary help us to be carers and protectors of those who have been entrusted to us. May she intercede for us as we follow her example of embodying the Gospel of love and service in the world.