Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter Year B 2021 at St Margaret Mary’s Parish, Merrylands
Readings: Acts 4:32-35; 1John 5:1-6; John 20:19-31
11 April 2021
Embodying Christ’s inclusive and all-embracing love
Sisters and brothers,
Several years ago, I was invited to Sacred Heart Mission in St Kilda, Melbourne. I was utterly amazed at the vitality, depth and reach of this community enterprise. From its humble beginnings as a parish-based food and shelter service, it has grown to be one of the biggest of its kind in Australia. The Mission now employs 300 staff members and draws on the efforts of hundreds of individual volunteers. Its services are diverse, ranging from meals, housing, healthcare to home support and even a free funeral service for the homeless poor. It is an example of how the people of faith can be leaven to the society and be builders of a caring, inclusive community.
In fact, whether big or small, when we Christians put our faith in action, we can make a difference. In a world of fear and the circle of sharing is off limits to the poor, we are called to be a Church without borders, a banquet hall that admits everyone and a society that mirrors God’s inclusive embrace.
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 tragic 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 God’s Kingdom. 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.
In today’s episode from the Acts of the Apostles, we are told that the early disciples were deeply rooted in the Gospel values: prayer, solidarity, mutual support, concern for the sick and the vulnerable members. It was like an extension of the original company of Jesus. They lived together and owned everything in common. They sold their houses and possessions and shared out the proceeds among themselves, each according to his needs. They formed an intentional community of faith, hope and love, ensuring that no one was left behind. The spirit of Jesus permeated them so completely that outsiders were in awe of the way they lived. “See how the Christians love one another” was their remark.
The Gospel story takes us back to the interim period between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. It was a small, disparate and dispirited group of people. They were not certainly all fervent in their faith. There were those like Thomas who was slow to believe. “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 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, that made plenty of room, that accommodated those who struggled, questioned, who doubted, who even strayed and got lost. It did so to Thomas because it had experienced that overwhelming, unconditional love and mercy from Jesus himself.
The Church today is not unlike the Church gathered in that upper room of old. In many ways, we are battered and bruised; we are in a state of grief, fear, confusion and uncertainty. The changes around us may not be as dramatic as affecting the disciples in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, they are very unsettling and disconcerting. There is a sense in which the Church finds itself in an uncharted territory. Yet, it is not in yearning for or holding on the known and the security of institutional power, but in reimagining the future and venturing into the unknown chaos like the old exodus that we will find new life.
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. In fact, the Church was born out of vulnerability. It had nothing to rely on but the power of the risen Lord.
The pandemic has struck fear into our hearts. In a time of uncertainty and scarcity, we have a choice to make: to withdraw into a self-centred mode or to turn our eyes to fellow human beings in a spirit of compassion. Like the first Christian community, let us choose to be a place where everyone experiences the divine hospitality, kindness and generosity. As we share at the table of God’s plenty, let us endeavour to reflect his goodness to us in the way we care for one another, especially those in need.