Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for Thursday of the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A 2017 with the Consecrated Men and Women of the Diocese of Parramatta at Holy Family Services Centre, Marayong
26 October 2017
Dear Sisters and Brothers in religion,
It is with a deep sense of gratitude that I welcome you to this annual gathering of religious in the Diocese of Parramatta. I am conscious that we are going through a profound transition time and this often means the reduced presence and even morale. I trust, however, that this transition will catalyse religious into a more purposeful and even more radical mode of living and service. Just as the Church as a whole is being made more compact, may religious lead the way in increasing our impact as an authentic sacrament of the Kingdom.
It is so easy for us to be seduced by the temptation of security in numbers, in institutional visibility, prestige and influence. This time of transition, which is characterised by diminishment and insecurity, actually allows us the precious opportunity to identify with the “remnant faithful” of the exile and to learn the power of vulnerable trust. It is not a time for activism, cynicism or nostalgia. It is a time for deepening of commitment, of grounding in our core values. If religious life is to invigorate itself, it will not necessarily be by inventing new works or by returning to old practices. It will be fundamentally through the ability to re-engage our religious tradition in the light of contemporary experience. Like the prophets of old, we religious make sense of Christian life and discipleship in the social context in which the community of believers find itself.
Christian discipleship is never for the faint-hearted, nor is it for those who want to have a bob each way. I am reminded of the Irish joke about a lapsed Catholic who was dying but would not renounce the devil. “But Father,” he told the anointing priest, “it mightn’t be a good time for me to make new enemies”. Scriptures would beg to differ. Those who follow God would have to choose him and his values over and above others. Like Abraham, Joseph, Mary, they would have to stake everything on God’s plan for them: houses, possessions, emotional attachment to places, people, lifestyle etc. Nothing less than a total and radical commitment is needed for the citizenship of the Kingdom.
This is precisely what Jesus asks of his disciples. “I have come to bring fire to the earth and how I wish it were blazing already.” The fire here is the passion for the Kingdom and all that Jesus stood for. We cannot be his disciples and not be consumed with a burning passion for justice, for human dignity, for the fullness of life and love for all God’s children. Jesus uses very strong images of family divisions to emphasise the importance of the undivided loyalty, the single-mindedness and the unmitigated dedication with which the disciples are to prosecute the cause of the Kingdom. Christian discipleship ultimately takes us to Jerusalem with the Suffering Servant of God. Therefore, nothing short of a total consuming passion will see us through.
Ever since Pope Francis unexpectedly came onto the scene, he has challenged us to live out the demands of the Gospel. For him, discipleship has little to do with security, comfort, complacency and mediocrity. He challenged us not to dabble in mediocrity, not to prefer security and familiarity, not to cling to status quo at the expense of God’s comprehensive and radical dream for humanity. The pope from the periphery wants us to go to the margins, to stay close to those on the edges of life and to be that Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets and immersed in the coalface realities. It is the Church that dares to do what Jesus did: to be all that it can be for the sake of others. As true believers, we endeavour to persevere in goodness, in love, in friendship, in solidarity with the oppressed, the asylum seekers, the children in detention, the homeless and in all that is life giving for others.
Sisters and brothers,
The purpose of our existence lies not so much in our works but the sign value that we are and the impact we generate through our radical witness. In the past, large scale institutional works such as schools, hospitals, orphanages etc, gave us visibility, social prestige and influence. Now, the time has come for us to live this life more fully, more creatively, more boldly, more at the periphery. As critical yeast in critical times, we must learn not to occupy centre stage, but to take a more precarious and liminal place. There at the coalface realities, we carry the burden of the hopeless and the dispossessed. There on the margins, we explore new frontiers and possibilities. Our job is to inspire and to keep the fire of the Gospel burning for the sake of the Church and of the world.
All followers of Christ are called to exchange everything for that advantage or the pearl of great prize. But religious and consecrated virgins visualise the radicalness of Christian discipleship by the witness of their vowed and consecrated life. Let us be witnesses for us about the “more” of life, especially in the world blinded by the here and now. Let us be the sign of an unflinching faith through which the apparent impossibility of transformation can be achieved through the power of God.