Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper 2018 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta.
29 March 2018
My dear friends,
Tonight, we have come together to celebrate the Sacred Triduum beginning with Maundy Thursday, which is a shorthand for the commandment of love. The Eucharist is therefore both the expression of God’s sacrificial love for us and our mutual love for one another.
In the first reading taken from the Book of Exodus, we hear the description of the Jewish Passover meal. Our ancestors in faith recall the event through which God delivered them from slavery in Egypt and led them to freedom. In celebrating the Passover, they remember the deliverance of the past and at the same time renew their commitment to build a society they are meant to be.
In the Last Supper, Jesus transforms the Jewish Passover meal. It is no longer just a celebration of freedom from bondage in Egypt. Jesus anticipates a new kind of exodus by his death and resurrection. He is the Passover Lamb, bringing about a new and greater exodus – leading us not to an earthly promised land, but to the reign of God’s justice and love.
Jesus also demonstrates how this new exodus is lived by the dramatic gesture of washing of the feet. It subverts worldly notion of greatness, power and leadership. The greatest has to become the smallest; the powerful has to become the powerless; and the leader has to become the servant. In effect, this goes to the heart of Christian discipleship. It illustrates powerfully to the disciples and all who wish to embark on this exodus what it means to be his follower. It is a stark reminder of our commitment to be servants in imitation of the Servant Leader who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life for others.
My dear friends,
Tonight’s celebration highlights for us what it means to be a disciple and what it means to be a body of Christ. In the world which is deeply suspicious of institutional religions, we need to be purified of all that is the antithesis of the Gospel spirit. We need to convert to the humble and servant Christ. Christianity or specifically Catholicism need to regain not so much its former influence in an increasing secular society, but the quality of its witness by the depth of our integrity and our commitment to be servants of the world.
Maundy Thursday is also traditionally regarded as the birthday of the ministerial priesthood. These days, it is not exactly a flourishing or even a respectable profession. In fact, there are those prophets of doom who tell us that the priesthood is dying. I wager that they are right – but only half-right. They fail to see the other side of the equation.
The Catholic priesthood is dying just as the whole Church must embody the paschal rhythm of dying and rising again. We need to have the courage to die to all those attitudes and behaviours that no longer convey effectively the message of the Gospel to the culture in which we live.
To this end, it is necessary that the priesthood die to things like worldly trappings, social status, prestige, and other forms of clericalism. It is necessary that we priests learn to rise to the power of vulnerability, servant-leadership, mutuality and partnership. We need to go to the drawing board which is the Gospel of service exemplified by Christ’s radical inversion of worldly values. We need to abandon the game of power and control, and put downward mobility front and centre in the Church, front and centre especially in the ministry of priesthood.
My dear friends,
The paschal rhythm summons us to a discipleship of humility, weakness and vulnerability, of dying and rising in Christ. As the Church, we must die to the old ways of being Church which is steeped in a culture of clerical power, dominance and privilege. We must abandon the old paradigm of a fortress Church which is prone to exclusivity and elitism. We must learn to rise to Christlike way of humility, inclusivity, compassion and powerlessness.
Let us pray that we have the courage to respond to God’s call to live our discipleship. Let us pray that we may learn to influence, albeit from a position of weakness, vulnerability and smallness, the world around us by our authentic witness to the Gospel. May we follow Christ in the nurturing and realising of God’s reign of love and justice. May Christ’s victory on the cross be our guiding light and our inspiration at all times.