Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Solemn Chrism Mass 2019 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
17 April 2019
My dear friends,
Yesterday, we were shocked and saddened at the devastating fire that destroyed much of the world-famous Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. It was not only the French people but the whole global community who were united in grief and in solidarity at what Pope Francis himself called “the symbol of Christianity in France and in the world.”
Here in Parramatta, we are of course no strangers to the grief and pain of a loved cathedral destroyed by fire. Most of us would even remember where we were and what we were doing when this very place was engulfed in flames.
Yet as tragic as the fire was, it brought the people of this Diocese together as no other events before had done. It was a catalyst for the bold and courageous decision of rebuilding St Patrick’s into the most contemporary, innovative and Vatican II oriented Cathedral in Australia.
When receiving the National Architecture Award for Public Buildings in 2004, Bishop Kevin Manning reflected poignantly: “Our new Cathedral building is giving a message to people that religion is not something that is back in the past.” Perhaps we can give the Parisians a few tips. But more importantly, we can use this event as a metaphor for the rebuilding of the Church going forward.
Indeed, we have a formidable task of rebuilding the very foundations of what it means to be a Gospel-centred Church in the wake of the sexual abuse crisis. Now is the time for us to rebuild the Church not necessarily into a proud and powerful institution reminiscent of some bygone era. Rather, our task during this time of cleansing and purification is to become what we are meant to be: salt of the earth and light of the world.
During the time of the Roman persecution, the Church gathered in places like the catacombs. It was poor, persecuted and few in numbers. Yet it was a powerhouse of prayer, love and solidarity. Today, in the midst of diminishment, we can learn to spread the fragrance of the Gospel and to shine like the Church of the catacombs.
This was what the prophet did during one of the most unsettling times in Israel’s history. Tonight’s episode comes from the third book of Isaiah in which he addresses the concerns of the postexilic community. The exiles returned to their homeland and were given a rallying call to rebuild.
Isaiah made known God’s intent to rehabilitate the life of the dispossessed out of impoverishment, powerlessness and despair. He would heal the broken-hearted, comfort the sorrowful and announce a year of favour which is a fresh start of freedom for the perpetually indebted. In other words, it is God’s justice and mercy that lies at the heart of the rebuilding project of the new Israel.
In fact, Isaiah insists that the reordering of life after the exile is not a repetition of the broken old system. It is not be based on the slogan “Make Israel Great Again”. Rather, there is a reversal of fortunes where the “First Class” citizens are the socially disadvantaged.
This is a sobering and poignant lesson for the Church as we too are committed to a rebuilding project. We have much to learn from our ancestors in faith.
In the spirit of humility and repentance, we need to relearn how to be the sacrament of God’s compassion and care for the powerless. We need to enact that same rallying call to bind up broken hearts, to proclaim freedom to captives and comfort all those who mourn.
This is the Church that Jesus too wants of us.
I often wonder how Jesus found this particular passage of Isaiah instead of other scriptural lessons in the scroll. It could have been a prohibition against food or sex which the Book of Leviticus alone lists 76 items. It could have been a less inspiring text.
What Jesus found and proclaimed in the synagogue that day was God’s deliberate intent and purpose for him. His mission would be directed to those on the margins.
In prioritising the poor and the marginalised, he fulfilled the law and the prophets. The Good News that he proclaimed and embodied was about the God who empowers the powerless for a life of grace and dignity.
This is why we hear stories of Jesus befriending and socialising with the tax collectors and sinners; we see him breaking social taboos and expanding the boundaries of human love.
Sisters and brothers,
Tonight, we consecrate the sacred oils, which will be used for the ministry to those in need. In this way, we enact God’s intent to heal, restore, strengthen and transform their lives. We extend the ministry of Jesus in such a way that the Church can be the embodiment of the Good News for all. This is fundamentally our rebuilding project.
The Church must be a place of promise and freedom. We must live out the radical vision of powerlessness of the Servant Lord. As we celebrate this Chrism Mass, let us commit ourselves to be the Church that strengthens the weak, heals the broken-hearted, lifts up the fallen and enables all to enter into the communion of the God of love.