Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter with the Rite of Admission to Candidacy to Holy Orders of Jack Elkazzi, Tom Green, George Stanton, and David Sebastian in Year C 2019 at St Oliver Plunkett’s Parish, Harris Park
Readings: Acts 5:12-16; Apocalypse 1:9-19; John 20:19-31
28 April 2019
The Church that creates space and facilitates growth
Sisters and brothers,
Once again, the world is in a state of shock and disbelief because of the senseless violence that took place in Sri Lanka, a country that is close to the hearts of many Australians.
It is all the more appalling when these acts of terror were deliberately directed at people who had gathered to celebrate the hope and joy of Easter.
As with the Christchurch attacks, we are called to stand together in solidarity to support the victims and advance the cause of our common humanity against the dark forces of hate, division and extremism.
We are inspired by the early Christian community, who shows us the way out of the darkness of despair and disillusionment in the wake of the shocking events in Jerusalem.
In fact, right throughout the Easter season, the scriptures focus our attention on the fledgling Church and how it transforms itself into a shining instrument of the Gospel. The readings this Second Sunday of Easter tell us about how the early Christians experience God’s love and mercy, and they in turn share that love and mercy with one another and the wider society.
The Acts of the Apostles presents us with a small and vulnerable group of believers, which emerged from the turbulent period following the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus.
We are told that these early disciples met and prayed in the Portico of Solomon. This was the Temple’s Outer Court, which was often reserved for an assortment of non-Jews, the sick, the crippled and beggars. By choosing to meet here rather than in the Inner Court of the Jews, the apostles identified themselves with the marginalised. They embraced radical solidarity. They shared their possessions and made sure that no one was left behind. They formed an intentional community of faith, hope and love, ensuring each other’s welfare and that of the most vulnerable.
The Gospel story takes us back to the interim period between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. It tells us how Thomas who refused to believe in the testimony of others. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Thus, even in that ideal Christian community, there were disagreements and certainly different levels of faith. Some were strong; others were weak and wavering.
Yet, the Church was not like a club with strict rules for its members. It was a family that cut plenty of slack and accommodated those who struggled, questioned, or even strayed and got lost. Thomas was able to make his personal journey from doubt to faith precisely because of the fraternal support and love from the community. Thomas reminds us that faith does not exclude doubt and questions, nor does it exclude moments when we wonder whether God is truly with us, faithful to God’s promises. The journey of faith requires of us a sense of vulnerable trust.
The disciples humbled by their own failings learned to trust and to walk the pathway of vulnerability. It was their faith in him, not the size of their numbers, not the strength of their resources, not the popularity of their cause, that determined the outcome of their mission. It had nothing to rely on but the power of the risen Lord.
This is the inspiration for us as we grapple with the unsettling and disconcerting situation. As we are subject to dying and rising pattern of Christ, we learn to die to what is unnecessary or indeed unworthy of the Gospel. Equally, we learn to rise to what we are called to be, a community of faith, hope and love, a sacrament of mercy and compassion to the world.
Brothers and sisters,
Today, we induct these brothers, our seminarians into the formal journey to ordination. Candidacy should not be misconstrued as a rung on the ladder to clerical power. It is a commitment to self-sacrifice, humble service and servant leadership. It is to follow the example of Christ who came not to be served but to serve.
In post-Royal Commission Australia, the mystique and social stature of the priesthood have all but disappeared. Pope Francis has appealed to the shepherds to wear the smell of the sheep and to abandon the culture of comfort, security and self-protection in order to go out to the periphery.
The early Christian community was poor, few in numbers and marginalised by society. Yet it was a powerhouse of prayer, love and solidarity. They showed to the world what it was like to live with fraternal concern, compassion and communion.
Today, in the midst of division, fragmentation and tribalism, we too can demonstrate to the world the Good News of Jesus that love is stronger than hatred and good is greater than evil.
May we embody this Good News in our communities and relationships as we seek to empower all to live life more fully in the risen Lord.