Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C 2019 at Vigil Mass at Mary Immaculate Parish, Quakers Hill-Schofields
Readings: Jer 38:4-10; Hebrew 12:1-4; Luke 12:49-53
17 August 2019
Vulnerable, generous and courageous discipleship
Dear sisters and brothers,
It is a particularly challenging and disorientating time to be a Catholic in Australia. We seem to be cornered at every turn and the task of rebuilding the Church’s credibility and moral stature in society is fraught with difficulties. But one thing is certain: there is no going back to the self-enclosed, secure and powerful institution that has been the feature of Catholicism for centuries.
We Catholics need to wake up to the reality that the Church is no longer in the safe harbour of Christendom or any semblance of it. We are like the Jews in the diaspora, exiled from the culture that was once permeated by Christian values and symbols. But just as the Jewish people rebuilt their covenant relationship outside their homeland, we too must rebuild what it means to be a Christian and a Christian community. The call to be fire to the earth and light of the world is ever more relevant in a world that thirsts for meaning, authenticity and integrity.
Scripture today speaks of this call. In the first reading, Jeremiah, known as a weeping prophet, undergoes persecution as a result of his mission. He has spoken truth to power in a way that upset the status quo and those who benefited from it. Consequently, he was attacked by his own brothers, imprisoned by the king, put into the stocks by the temple priests and thrown into a cistern by the court officials. The truth of the matter is that there is always a risk associated with the disruptor of the status quo.
In the digital world, we think of disruptors like Uber, Airbnb and so on. But in the spiritual sphere, we too cannot take a counter-cultural and prophetic stance, like Jeremiah did, and avoid the risk of that stance. Jeremiah shows us that authentic discipleship makes us fearless and not fearful in the face of hardship and persecution. It empowers us to live more generously, more trustfully and yet more bravely.
In the Gospel, Jesus speaks with passion about his mission and what it means to be his disciple. He presents himself not as Mr Nice Guy but as a quintessential disruptor. “I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already”. The fire can only be understood through the prism of his life, death and resurrection. It is the fire of divine energy that emanates from him, burning away all that is evil and radiating God’s love for all humanity and all creation. We are entrusted with this fire to keep it burning till he comes.
Jesus uses very strong images of family divisions to emphasise the importance of authentic discipleship. It is the language of poetry, which is similar to his call to reject one’s parents or let the dead bury their dead. The litmus test of Christian discipleship is complete fidelity to the cross in the footsteps of the suffering Messiah. This fidelity would be preferred to even family ties. This fidelity would cut through biological bloodline and traditional structure. The disciples must put the cause of the Kingdom over and above other considerations.
Christian discipleship, then, is never for the faint-hearted. Those who follow Christ would have to choose his way over and above all other avenues. Like Abraham, Sarah, Joseph and Mary, they would have to stake everything that belongs to them on God’s promise. Authentic discipleship has little to do with security, comfort, complacency and mediocrity. Jesus challenges us to make the cause of His Kingdom more important than our possessions and relationships.
Brothers and sisters,
The Church is like a vessel adrift on the choppy waters of the post-Christian world.
Many of us, like the Jews of old, are fearful of the unknown and uncertain future ahead. We yearn for the certainty and security of the past. Yet the call of authentic discipleship is the call to vulnerable trust, generosity and courage. It is the call issued to God’s faithful throughout history. We must let shine the deepest core values of who we are meant to be rather than allowing the trappings of time and culture to inhibit us.
Even as we undergo the process of diminishment in this captivity, we can focus on embodying the Gospel of love, mercy and forgiveness. We may be a smaller, humbler and poorer Church. But hopefully, we can also become a more authentic and effective sign of the Kingdom.
Today, in Australia, we may not face a hard choice between our faith and our family or our livelihoods. Nonetheless, Christian discipleship demands our moral courage, integrity and fidelity.
Pope Francis invites us to face the challenge of being a Church in mission to the suffering world – one that is soiled, bruised and wounded, rather than one that is shielded in security and comfort. May what we celebrate today serve to remind us of our commitment to the vision of Jesus which is to build God’s Kingdom on right relationships, peace, justice and love.
Let us go forward in our mission to make a difference in the world, confident of the victory of Christ and his promise to be with us till the end of time.