Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Mass of Thanksgiving with Diocesan Boards and Council Members at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
Readings: Isaiah 26:1-6; Matthew 7:21-27
3 December 2020
A year of generous and compassionate service
“Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and hurled themselves against that house, and it did not fall”.
These words of Jesus have a particular resonance with us as we reflect on what has been a devastating year for many and a formidably challenging year for our Diocese. We began 2020 with the fires that devoured millions of acres of bushland; then came the deluge that caused no less damage to homes and properties. Australia has lived up to its reputation as the land of extremes. None of these, however, prepared us for the pandemic that followed. It paralysed the whole global economy and dealt a terrible blow to the Catholic Church that was still reeling from the impact of the sexual abuse crisis.
The Church is often perceived as a powerful institution and a big corporate entity with the trappings of wealth, resources and influence. This institutional and corporate Church has been accused of being concerned with the maintenance of public image, social status and reputation at the expense of justice, compassion and equity. In the spirit of humility and repentance, we need to focus our attention squarely on how we follow the compassionate Jesus and how authentic we are in being the sacrament of God’s compassion and care for the least and the last.
The Church is first and foremost a presence, an oasis of hope and a field hospital according to Pope Francis. It is meant to be recognised by the way its members love and care for one another. We are called to practice an ethic of concern, care, support for one another, so no one is excluded from the table or left behind; we are challenged to be a community of hospitality, compassion and inclusion, which is an alternative to the populist politics of individual prosperity, security and self-interest at the expense of the poor and those on Struggle Street.
The Word of God tonight calls us to the place that offers safety, warmth and a sense of belonging for all people. Isaiah uses the metaphor of a citadel, which was synonymous with unassailable stability in order to describe the future vision of Israel. In the time of primitive weaponry, a city with walls and ramparts was tantamount to invincibility. Isaiah’s prophecy is not about some pie in the sky or an unachievable utopia. The real challenge for Israel is to be faithful to the vision that God committed them to ever since the exodus from Egypt. That vision is a vision of an alternative society where the poor and the vulnerable are dignified, where there is no injustice and oppression.
In the Gospel, Jesus alerts his disciples to authentic discipleship based on the constancy of faith as opposed to a badge they wear. Those who claim special treatment by way of their status and privilege are rejected. The use of the acclamation “Lord, Lord” is identical to the claim of special status on the part of the foolish bridesmaids on their way back to the house. On both accounts, Jesus affirms that it is faith in action, discipleship in service, that trumps any claim of superiority.
Brothers and sisters,
It has been a tough year on many fronts. Yet, the grace of God has enabled us to not only weather the storm but to grow in our mission. I am proud that despite the general downturn, the Diocese has been able to support our services and our staff. Our agencies such as CEDP, CDPSL, CatholicCare have responded generously and compassionately to families in need. We remunerated our hard-working staff and even paid dividends to our parishes. These were done through careful and wise stewardship of our resources.
I am proud to be part of such a united, dedicated and committed team. We have some of the best people in the field who give freely of their time, talent and experience in service of God’s people. If this Church in Parramatta is built on rock, you are the pivots that are indispensable in the structure of the building.
To every one of you for the part you have played, to your spouses and loved ones, I say thank you for the hidden, quiet, but no less important part you’ve played. You’ve allowed your spouses or loved ones to do someone else’s work. You’ve picked up the slack at home. You’ve walked with the Diocese the extra mile for which I am deeply grateful.
Let us pray that we can be beacons of light and hope by way of our discipleship of mission and service. May all that we do and all that we are in our lives and relationships reflect the call to be a sign of light, hope and joy to the Church and the people of our time.