Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A 2020 on the occasion of the Opening of the Seminary Year at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
Readings: Eccles15:16-21; 1Cor 2:6-10; Matt 5:17-37
16 February 2020
Living by God’s wisdom to be the light of the world
Dear sisters and brothers,
You might be aware that Pope Francis has written a letter in response to the Synod of the Amazon, which took place in October last year. The Amazon is a vast region where there are many communities of Indigenous people threatened by the forces of expansionism. It is the place where the Church seeks to be their companion, protector and defender. Some were disappointed because the Pope said nothing about the ordination of married men or female deacons. Others, like myself, were heartened by his call to preach Christ with an Amazonian face. He warns us against the temptation to replicate old ways of doing things when God is calling for new ways. He affirms that we must listen to the poor, walk with them and offer them a viable alternative instead of imposing on them a neo-colonial model: the idea that the Amazon is full of raw resources to be extracted and a wild expanse to be conquered, ignoring the rights and values of the people and their lands, exploiting and enslaving them. It is a message that has relevance for us as we endeavour to walk the journey of reconciliation with our Indigenous brothers and sisters.
As we gather for the Eucharist today, we reflect on our identity as a Catholic community seeking to live the Gospel in an authentic and life-giving way. We are encouraged by the example and the call of Pope Francis seeking truth, justice and solidarity for the life of the world. We are also challenged by God’s Word that speaks of the courage to live by the wisdom of God. In Jesus, we have a model of living life to the full, in service of others. In Him, an alternative consciousness and mode of living is possible that will enable us to be the light of the world.
The Book of Ecclesiasticus stresses the responsibility that flows from our freedom of choice. The author presses upon the people that they must choose between God’s wisdom and the value system of the world. He uses contrasting images of fire and water, life and death to describe the radical nature of the choice. One is reminded of the episode in which Joshua asks the wandering Jews to either serve Yahweh or the gods of the Amorites. No easy task when following the Lord entails a sense of vulnerable trust instead of certainty and security.
St Paul in the second reading writes to the new converts who have been brought up in Greek philosophy. He reminds them that they now must choose between God’s wisdom revealed in Christ and the popular value systems around them. Again, it is no easy task to live by the wisdom of the cross.
The Gospel story tells us of the dispute between Jesus and the Pharisees on the question of religious observance. The latter observe the external requirements of the law while neglecting its internal transformation. Jesus condemns this shallow, self-serving and false religion, which becomes an accessory to one’s public image and a means to enhance one’s status. He challenges us to practice a holiness that goes to the heart, that has to do with integrity, love and service. It is not just avoiding infringements of the law but fulfilling its purpose. It is not checking all the right boxes but getting one’s heart right with God. It is not doing the minimum but loving others even at our own cost.
Brothers and sisters,
Christian discipleship demands our moral courage, integrity and fidelity. Our ancestors in faith were asked to reject false gods and live by God’s wisdom instead. The disciples were asked to go beyond the letter of the law and to interiorise holiness in a way that transforms their lives, relationships and behaviours. They were to set themselves apart; to become an alternative society rather assimilating and conforming to the value system of the dominant culture. We are told that the early Church was poorly resourced, few in numbers, marginalised and persecuted by the powers that be. Yet, it was a powerhouse of prayer, love and solidarity. In the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, they showed to the world that it was possible to live with fraternal concern, compassion and communion instead of ruthless exploitation and conquest.
We live in uncertain and challenging times. We may be returning to the earlier times in terms of being a marginalised or even unpopular minority. But if we follow the example of our ancestors and the early Church in being an alternative society, a community of justice, inclusivity, solidarity, prayer and support, then it is the future worth dedicating our lives to.
Let us then persevere in faith, hope, love, goodness and humility. May we grow in our authentic discipleship and be the sacrament of God’s presence to the world. Today we especially pray for the staff and seminarians at the Holy Spirit Seminary as they begin a new academic year. Priestly vocations are nurtured and formed in the womb of the family, the womb of the seminary and also that of the larger Catholic community. We all have a part to play and to contribute to the formation and growth of these young men. Let us pray that nourished by the wisdom of God, they may grow and become leaders after the example of Christ who came not to be served, but to serve and give his life for others.