Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C 2019 with the Servants of Jesus Community, Seven Hills
Readings: Eccles 27:4-7; 1 Cor 15:54-58; Luke 6:39-45
3 March 2019
A tree is known by its fruit
My dear friends in Christ,
It has been a particularly brutal week for the Catholic Church in Australia. The news concerning Cardinal George Pell and his conviction and incarceration on historic child sexual abuse crimes has dominated local and international media. It is simply unprecedented.
Such news has caused a wide range of emotions in the community. Even among Catholics, there is a sense of shame and anger at the betrayal that the clerical sex abuse crimes represent, and the hypocrisy they reveal.
In many ways, the case of Cardinal Pell goes beyond the individual concerned. While his appeal is yet to be adjudicated by the court, it is the Church which he represents that is on trial – at least in the minds of people. They are questioning the moral leadership of the Catholic hierarchy and their ability to rid the institution of all that is wrong with it.
Let us be honest about it. We the custodians of the Church have woefully failed God’s little ones; because as have been exposed by the Royal Commission, instead of demonstrating that fundamental ethos of care for those who have been harmed and are vulnerable, the leaders have been shown to have cared primarily for the Church’s own security, reputation and interests.
In many ways, we have behaved like the Prodigal Son. We have squandered the Church’s patrimony. But worst of all, we have betrayed your trust. It is time for us to come home to the heart of the Gospel. We need to convert to the radical vision of Christ and let it imbue our attitudes, actions and pastoral practices. We must have the courage to see how far we have drifted from the vision of Jesus, repent of our sins and face up to the task of reclaiming the innocence and powerlessness of the Servant-Leader.
In the Gospel today, Jesus is scathing in his attack against hypocrisy. “Why do you observe the splinter in our brother’s eye and never notice the plank in your own? Hypocrite! Take the plank out of your own eye and then you will see clearly enough to take out the splinter that is in your brother’s eye.”
Jesus demands integrity of the highest order from those who are in the business of guiding others, lest they become an obstacle instead of a guiding light.
That is a sobering and poignant lesson for the Church today. In our modern context where the Church has lost much of its shine, Jesus’ call for integrity challenges us to be authentic to who we are.
The Church as an institution has been shown to lack compassion and even to act with hypocrisy, especially in relation to victims of sexual abuse. In this time, our priority is not and should not be about fending off criticisms – deserved or undeserved.
In the spirit of humility and repentance, we need to focus our attention squarely on how we follow the compassionate Jesus and how authentic we are in being the sacrament of God’s compassion and care for the least and the last.
The Church is first and foremost a presence, an oasis of hope and Good News. We must learn to be a soothing presence, a warmth of God’s care and a gentle reach of God’s hand, affirming, healing and uplifting.
Some too feel that in the market place the “brand Catholic” has suffered a grievous blow. Perhaps so. But we are not a market nor are we a popular cult.
We are first and always a community of disciples following our one master, Jesus Christ. We are not the Church of one particular leader, be it Pope Francis or Cardinal Pell or any other bishop.
We are the living Body of Christ made up of saints and sinners. We are challenged by Our Lord to reach out to all who are hurting, victims of every abuse and sinfulness; to be the “field hospital” for all the marginalised as Pope Francis has asked us to become; to be in the messiness of life, not to run away into some “idealised future or romantic past”; to be such, demands that we let go of our sense of superiority, privilege and power; to embrace again our need for healing and forgiveness and to look again at the Suffering Servant leader who is our Lord Jesus.
My dear friends,
We are living through a trying time in the Church. As Church leaders, we bishops and priests have a particular duty in living the Gospel message with integrity; we have a particular duty in regaining a sense of trust and credibility through our authentic witness.
Only by dying to power, domination, ostentation and rising to humility, simplicity, servant-hood can we be catalysts for renewal and agents of the Gospel. I humbly ask your prayers and support for me, your clergy, that we truly become servant leaders in the example of Christ.
Let us then endeavour to live this time of crisis with hope and confidence. Let us commit ourselves to a discipleship of humility, powerlessness and vulnerability, of dying and rising in Christ.
“Never give in, my dear friends” Paul tells us in the second reading. Let us not give in to despair or denial but “keep on working” to turn crisis into opportunity. Then we can be certain that the Church will transition to a new dawn and a better future.