Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Solemn Chrism Mass 2018 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
28 March 2018
My dear people, fellow religious and clergy,
First of all, I want to express my gratitude to you who share with me the work of the Gospel in our diocese and beyond. At this Chrism Mass, we gather to renew our commitment to walk the path of faithful discipleship and to advance the cause of the Kingdom. Despite the enormous challenges that we face as the Church in Western Sydney and in this country at this critical time, we can go forward on a new exodus, trusting in God, walking as pilgrims together, knowing that Christ accompanies us just as he once accompanied his disciples.
I think we are living in a very extraordinary time. At the national or even universal level, there is a sense that the Church is at a crossroads. But crisis often carries with it a promise of opportunity. You heard me say on more than one occasion that we must have the courage to seize this time of diminishment in terms of our stature, credibility and influence as a moment of grace. We must have the courage find new fresh ways of being Church that reflect authentically the person and message of Jesus, and empower our people with fresh hope.
This was what the prophet Isaiah did during one of the most turbulent periods of Israel. He was able to see the signs of the times through the prism of God’s vision for the people. The destruction of the old way of life which was organised around the land and temple gave way to a much more uncertain reality in the exile. Yet Isaiah saw this new reality as an opportunity for Israel to demonstrate their commitment to the God of the covenant. The exile was interpreted as a time of deepening Israel’s faith and empowering them to be a light for the world. It was the time or the Kairos not to mourn for bygone prosperity and security but to reengage with the world around them. It was the time to live out the fundamentals of the covenant and to shine out as a beacon of hope even as they were made poor, dispossessed and broken in the land of captivity.
That is a sobering and poignant lesson for the Church today, too. Like our ancestors in faith, we find ourselves in a new captivity. We may not have lost the land and the temple but certainly the Church’s loss of trust, credibility and relevance among other things is very acute. Thus Isaiah’s call for the community of faith to regain its role as changing agent in society is so prophetic for us. We have much to learn from our ancestors in faith. In the spirit of humility and repentance, we need to focus our attention squarely on 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 once again the Church that binds up broken hearts, proclaims freedom to captives and comforts all those who mourn.
In the Gospel, Jesus takes up the message of Isaiah and turns it into a kind of personal manifesto. The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the dead raised and Good News preached to the poor constitute the messianic signs of God’s reign. Wherever he went and whatever he did, people were able to see and experience the presence of God and his Kingdom.
We can feel the urgency of the now through the words of Jesus and through a convergence of the signs of the times. Now is the Kairos to reimagine the Church in fresh new ways of being Church that convey the joy of the Gospel to the post-Royal Commission society in which we live. Now is the Kairos to reclaim the Church as a refuge for the weak, an oasis for the weary and a hospital for the wounded. Now is the Kairos to project the Church not as a fortress but a sacrament of the Kingdom, not a perfect society but a fellow pilgrim with others, not as an inward-looking group but a missionary and prophetic community of disciples.
This is the field hospital that Pope Francis wants us to be in the age of despair and disillusionment. If I may be bold to name the paradigm shift that Pope Francis is leading the Church in this new era of change. In his words and actions, he embodies the shift from clericalism to service, from individualism to partnership, from self-reference to openness, from Baroque splendour to simplicity, from triumphalism to humility, from top-down obedience to collegiality and collaboration, from a siege mentality to engagement, from confronting to listening and accompanying with love.
Brothers and sisters, fellow religious and clergy,
We must never shirk from our call to be the visible sacrament of God’s love even in the midst of diminishment, uncertainty and despair. This tough time can be the catalyst for rebirth and transformation. We can only be sure of a new springtime for the Church when we are prepared to die to that which is not of Christ, to empty ourselves of all that is contrary to the Gospel. As we celebrate this Chrism Mass, let us renew our commitment to pattern ourselves to the paschal rhythm. Let us commit ourselves to be the Church that strengthens the weak, heals the brokenhearted, lifts up the fallen and invites all to the communion of love.