Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year A at St Andrew the Apostle Parish, Marayong
3 September 2017
Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Often, it takes a lot of guts to do the right thing instead of the popular thing, to confront rather than to conform or to go with the flow. At the height of the Syrian refugee crisis, Pope Francis went and showed solidarity with the refugees who had arrived by boat in their thousands on the Greek island of Lesbos. As if this wasn’t controversial enough, he brought back with him to the Vatican 12 refugees and they were all Muslims.
Well, didn’t the shock jocks from America to Australia have a field day? They just went ballistic. They ridiculed him and called him names. Many people, Catholics included, I might add, were also deeply unhappy with this gesture of Pope Francis. They joined in the chorus of criticisms. His popularity took a battering.
Often, it takes a lot of guts to do the right thing instead of the popular thing, to confront rather than to conform or to go with the flow.
But to those who value true Christian leadership, the stance and gesture of the Pope illustrated what moral courage is all about. It is the willingness to confront situations of injustice or conflict without compromising the Gospel and without counting the cost to oneself. It is the commitment to the truth of the Gospel even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others. In this way, the Pope in reaching out to the most marginalised and vulnerable lived up to the maxim of swimming against the tide.
Scripture for this 22nd Sunday of the year also teaches us to act with moral courage and resist the tyranny of popularity. It calls upon us to embrace a discipleship of commitment and self-sacrifice as opposed to a self-serving and self-preserving mentality, which is our natural instinct and default position.
But to those who value true Christian leadership, the stance and gesture of the Pope illustrated what moral courage is all about.
In the first reading, Jeremiah known as ‘the weeping prophet’ because of his lamentations for the sins of Israel reflects on the costs of being God’s faithful mouthpiece. “The word of the Lord has meant for me insult, derision all day long”. Why was he insulted? Because Jeremiah had spoken against the movers and shakers who took advantage of the politically unstable and chaotic situation in Israel prior to the Babylonian captivity. He had condemned the corruption, moral decay, idolatry, shifting alliances and opportunism in Israel. His stance was not popular. He was a lone voice in the wilderness. As a result, he was attacked by his own brothers, imprisoned by the king, put into the stocks by the temple priests and thrown into a cistern by the court officials.
Jeremiah was caught between a compelling word of God and a recalcitrant people who rejected that word. In the end, though, he remained fully committed and faithful to his mission in the face of adversity. He shows us what it means to live by one’s principle, to have moral courage and to walk the long hard road of fidelity.
Such courage and commitment are also demanded of the disciples as evident by the Gospel reading. “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.” These words of Jesus form the kernel of Christian discipleship. To be his follower is to walk the path of the cross. It is to lose oneself for the sake of the Kingdom. It is to commit oneself not to self-preservation but to self-sacrifice for the sake of others. “For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it”. Peter had a shock to his system when he heard these words. He learned that he could only be a true rock when he had the courage to emulate the Suffering Servant. On the other hand, he would be a stumbling rock or an obstacle, if he emptied Christian discipleship of the cross.
Jesus challenges us as he challenged Peter to move from the cultural model of power, dominion and self-preservation to the new Kingdom model of service, love and self-sacrifice.
Jesus challenges us as he challenged Peter to move from the cultural model of power, dominion and self-preservation to the new Kingdom model of service, love and self-sacrifice. Paul echoes the teaching of Jesus by saying: “Do not model yourselves on the behaviour of the world around you” but instead discern the will of God and do what He wants. Consequently, we Christians are meant to be counter-cultural insofar as we dare to name and critique the anti-Gospel attitudes and practices around us.
We do so not out of arrogance and loftiness but out of the authentic convergence to the mind and heart of Christ. Otherwise, what we think is moral courage might turn out to be self-conceited rigidity. The challenge that Jeremiah and Peter face is to act with moral courage out of concern for justice and integrity. Hence it is bound up with the call to stand on the side of the powerless and the vulnerable. Indeed, it is inseparable from the fundamental call to live the powerlessness and vulnerability of Jesus.
Today, we are faced with many situations of need, conflict and injustice that demand our moral courage. We cannot stay on the other side of the road like the priest and the Levite. We cannot be neutral or indifferent. The Gospel demands us to take a worthy stance and to act according to the life-giving mystery of the cross. Pope Francis invites us to face the challenge of sharing the mystique of living together, of mingling and encounter, of embracing and supporting one another, of stepping into this flood tide which, while chaotic, can become a genuine experience of fraternity, a caravan of solidarity, a sacred pilgrimage.
May we have the courage to follow the example of Christ and live fully the demands of Christian discipleship.