Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter in Year B at St Luke’s Catholic Faith Community, Marsden Park
8 April 2018
Brothers and Sister,
It is with great joy and excitement that I join with you today in installing Deacon Tony Hoban, assisted by his wife Annette, as the pastoral leader of this new St Luke’s Catholic Faith Community here in burgeoning Marsden Park. They are possibly the first deacon couple to lead a Parochial District in Australia, certainly the first in our Diocese. This is not an act of desperation on my part. Rather, it is a vote of confidence in Deacon Tony’s leadership credentials. It is also my belief that the time has come for us to recognise the gifts of married deacons and empower them to exercise those gifts for the benefit of the community.
The Word of God this Second Sunday of Easter speaks of a new beginning and a time of renewal and hope. The Acts of the Apostles presents us with a community, which emerged from the turbulent period following the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus. 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. They sold their houses and possessions and shared out the proceeds among themselves, each according to his needs. 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 is less idealistic. Following the dramatic events in Jerusalem, the followers of Christ gathered in grief, fear, confusion and uncertainty. They were battered, bruised, laden with guilt and shame. Then the risen Jesus unexpectedly appeared to them. He did not rebuke them. He removed their guilt and shame with the words: “Peace be with you”. He breathed on them the Holy Spirit and sent them out on a mission of reconciliation. It was the deeply felt love and mercy from the risen Lord that enabled the disciples to minister that same love and mercy to others.
The story continues with the doubting Thomas who was not convinced by 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, 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 beginning of the Church took place not at the moment of its success and achievement but at the moment of its greatest vulnerability. It had nothing to rely on but the power of the risen Lord.
This is the inspiration for us today 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. Our loss in many ways could be a blessing in disguise in that we learn to start afresh, we begin again from a position of humility, simplicity and poverty.
Today as we celebrate a new beginning in the life of this community, may we be bold, trustful, alert and open to the new things that God is doing in the Church and in the world. May we commit ourselves to walk as pilgrims open to be formed and enriched by the journey. May the Lord bless our community and bring to fruition our endeavours to build His Kingdom in this place and time.