Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C 2019 on the 40th Anniversary of the Ephpheta Centre at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
Readings: Eccle 1:2, 2:21-23; Col 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21
4 August 2019
Privatism versus the common good
Sisters and brothers,
This week, in our federal parliament, there has been a debate about Newstart. Sadly, it does not appear that there is sufficient support for a rise in unemployment benefits and so Newstart recipients may have to make do with an allowance that is well below the poverty line.
Many would argue that there is something inherently wrong with a system that rewards the people high up the food chain through generous entitlement schemes and tax breaks, while it leaves behind those on Struggle Street. It erodes our deeply cherished sense of “a fair go” and undermines the very foundation of an inclusive and egalitarian society that cares for the most vulnerable.
The Word of God this Sunday warns us of the attitude that reinforces this system. It makes a case against the accumulation of wealth and power that clashes with God’s vision of communion, solidarity and distributive justice. It challenges us to move beyond the world of self-security and privatism, in order to be men and women for others in the example of Christ.
The Book of Ecclesiastes, which contains ancient Jewish wisdom, admonishes us not to be too consumed by material concerns. After all, it asks, what profit comes to us from all our toiling? The rich and the poor alike must leave their possessions behind once their allotted days are over. All earthly pursuits are like chasing after the wind and will end in vanity. It seems to be a very dim view of life.
Nevertheless, Qoheleth, the author teaches us to trust God and strive after virtues despite the vanity, chaos and randomness of life. We only see parts, not the whole. But even with the incomplete pieces of the puzzle, we can live our lives in such a way that we inherit true wealth.
In the Gospel, Jesus warns us against a self-enclosed living that insulates us and leads us to moral apathy. In the parable, the rich man does not appear to have committed egregious acts of evil. He is simply consumed by his desire to grow richer and totally isolated from what goes on around him. Yet he is condemned for his self-centered indulgence.
Like the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, it is not the sin of commission but that of omission, that failure to act justly that constitutes reproachable behaviour. It is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer points out in his famous dictum “Doing nothing or silence in the face of evil is itself evil”.
St Paul in the second reading exhorts us to model our attitude and behaviour on Christ. Christians are counter-cultural insofar as we dare to name and to critique the anti-Gospel attitudes of the world around us. We show the way to a culture of encounter and shared humanity by a radical discipleship of love and compassion, solidarity and service. We accompany the victims of injustice even when it requires from us a willingness to suffer with them.
One of the constant themes of Pope Francis’ pontificate has been this willingness to accompany, to care and even to suffer the consequences of accompaniment. His pastoral outreach to refugees, Muslims, prisoners and other vulnerable classes of people has not always been popular even within Catholic circles. He challenges the whole Church not to cling to wealth, power, security and smug triumphalism. He champions the Gospel of encounter and accompaniment, solidarity and communion.
The Word of God challenges us to live for others against the culture of accumulation and greed. Jesus’ parable evokes powerful cultural memories of Pharaoh and Solomon. Pharaoh built barns and grain stores not to share but to protect his surpluses. Solomon likewise became the accumulator of food, weapons and wives. Both of them created oppressive societies, which were the antithesis of God’s faithful community of solidarity and empathy.
The Church as the living custodian of these cultural memories must not forget our past and the future we are called to become. A society that is not aligned to God’s purposes is not sustainable.
Today, we welcome the Ephpheta Community to our Cathedral and join them in the celebration of the 40th anniversary of their foundation. True to their biblical name, they have opened new possibilities to many of the deaf and hearing impaired and their loved ones.
Ephpheta is deeply rooted in Jesus’vision of a community of solidarity and empathy which in turn has an empowering effect on the society. Our diocese is blessed to join them in this vision through The Catholic Foundation.
Let us pray that we learn to operate out of Jesus’ vision of shared communion as opposed to self-centered accumulation. May our sharing at this table strengthen us in our commitment to strive for the common good according to the values of the Gospel. May we live out the passion of Christ to be men and women for others.