Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Chrism Mass, Year C 2022 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
Readings: Isaiah 61:1-3, 6, 8-9; Psalm 88(89):21-22, 25, 27; Apocalypse 1:5-8; Luke 4:16-21
Living with prophetic boldness in times of chaos
My dear people, colleagues in ministry and religion,
“It is wonderful for us to be here”. These words of St Peter express our joy, confidence and hope, especially as we emerge out of the long shadows of the pandemic. Like the disciples at the critical juncture on their journey of faith and discipleship, we seek to be nourished by the experience of being with Christ, deepening our relationship with him, growing in our awareness of his self-emptying mystery and ultimately learning to enact that mystery ourselves.
While we yearn for familiarity and security, we must not allow ourselves to be unmoved by unfolding revelation through the signs of the times. We must not prefer certitude to the hard task of deep listening, discerning and aligning with the divine innovation. Like Israel of old, we must seek fresh ways of embodying the God of the Covenant. The Church must not lose sight of the task of putting flesh on the marrow of the Gospel. Prophetic reframing or making the Good News alive in our lived context is part of our DNA as a paschal people.
The Word of God tonight calls us to be the vehicle of the Good News. God in Christ summons us to live this life more fully, more creatively, more boldly, more at the periphery. The history of the Church has shown that ours is a journey into chaos, discovery and re-imagination writ large. There is never a time to settle into false securities in terms of numbers, prestige and visibility of institutional influence etc. Discerning and living the creative power of the Spirit through the paschal rhythm of life and death have been our strength.
The first reading tells us about the call of Isaiah which is situated in the context of the exile. “The spirit of the Lord has been given to me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the broken-hearted, liberty to captives and freedom to those in prison.” Isaiah was sent to give fresh vision and hope to a people in distress. He was charged with a mission of reframing the hopeless reality into a new hope-filled future for his people.
In the wake of the destruction of the temple and the temple-based priesthood, he calls the people to a new way of worship and witness. They themselves are to be ‘priests of the Lord’ and ‘ministers of God’. They need not yearn nostalgically for the power and glory of the past but exercise their priesthood and enact their call to holiness by way of being attentive to the poor, the vulnerable and the broken.
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. We must learn to be once again the Church that binds up broken hearts, proclaims freedom to captives and comforts all those who mourn.
The Gospel tells us the story of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. “The spirit of God has anointed me. He sent me to bring the Good News to the poor, liberty to captives, sight to the blind and the Year of favour for all”. With these words, Jesus set out his mission. They sum up those things that Jesus would later do in respect of the social outcasts. They encapsulate his attitude, his vision and his mission.
The God of Jesus was not confined to a tribe, a country, a social status. He embodied and preached a God that transcended the established walls that separate, the rules that categorise and label people, and the borders that define party loyalty. The pain and hurt of poverty, captivity, blindness, and oppression know no boundaries. That means the divine favour of good news, release, sight, and freedom can have no boundaries either.
We see something of the prophetic boldness in Pope Francis and the way he challenges us to discern new ways of living, ministering and witnessing to the Gospel. The Church, he insists, must be the Church of the poor and for the poor. We must abandon our culture of comfort and go to the periphery. We must be less of an enclosure for the virtuous but more an oasis for the weary and downtrodden. We must die to attitudes and practices of exclusion and rise to those of radical love, inclusiveness and solidarity. We must die to a leadership of power, control and clericalism in order to rise to a diakonia of a humble and suffering servant.
Brothers and sisters, colleagues in religion and ministry,
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. 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. Let us commit ourselves to be the Church that strengthens the weak, heals the broken-hearted, lifts up the fallen and invites all to the communion of love.