Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the First Week of Advent Year A 2019 and the ACYF 2019 Commissioning Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
Readings: Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13: 11-14; Matthew 24: 37-44
1 December 2019
Out of lethargy into hope-filled living
Today, it is with great joy that we have come to celebrate this Commissioning Mass for the Australian Catholic Youth Festival. I am thankful for the youth of our Diocese who represent our multicultural and dynamic face.
The Church in this country has had its share of adversity and we may feel that there is nothing to celebrate. Our faith, however, informs us that God is with us even more in times of trouble. The Plenary Council 2020 is an opportunity for us to be more alert and responsive to the presence, the voice and the movement of the Spirit in history and in the lived realities of human experience. We need to be challenged and shaken up in order that we may be faithful, authentic, committed to our mission of being the sacrament of God’s love and the visible face of Christ in the world.
The Word of God on this first Sunday of Advent also summons us to work towards God’s vision of a world of fraternal communion and not fall victim to moral apathy, indifference and self-centredness.
In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah speaks of the mountain Temple as a symbol of unity for all the nations. Instead of being a focus of Israel’s sense of pride, divine election and patriotism, the Temple becomes God’s instrument of bringing the world together and equipping all peoples with the knowledge of fraternal communion. God will meet them and teach them his Torah. They will no longer relate with each other as rivals and enemies. Instead, they will “hammer their swords into ploughshares and their spears into sickles”.
They will build a new world order based not on dominion but communion, not self-centredness but solidarity with and care for the vulnerable. God’s people will include not only the remnants of Israel but also all those who are dedicated to Yahweh. This is an extraordinary prophecy that breaks down tribal barriers and summons the exiled Jews the task of building God’s Kingdom.
In the Gospel, Jesus translates Isaiah’s message into his own time. He uses the story of Noah to wake people out of indifference. He speaks of the day of the Lord as the time when God would finally bring everything to fulfilment. The underlying message behind the apocalyptic imagery is not about fear but trust. The believers are to know that though we are in a mess, this doesn’t have to be the end of the story. God would make our hope of salvation possible.
Noah is a leader who has the ability to know what is around the bend and to be ready for it. The rest, instead, just continue on their merry way, completely oblivious to the writing on the wall. We may not be eating or getting into drunken orgies like the Romans in Paul’s time, however, the lesson of seeing, judging and acting prophetically is very much poignant to us as we face very uncertain times ahead.
We are living in a time that is not unlike the biblical exile. It can be understood as a metaphor for this unsettling and uneasy situation before us. Through the exile, God’s people learned that He was with them and had a purpose for them. In fact, the exile turned out to be the most crucial period in their pilgrimage of faith. It was a necessary disruption that woke them up to the raw reality that they had failed. They had not lived out God’s vision of justice, communion and solidarity. Jerusalem had become a place of oppression instead of freedom.
Isaiah summons them to a new future after the exile. This new future does not simply consist in the regaining of former status in Palestine. It is not going to be a return to the past glories. Rather it will be a humble remnant people learning to be a beacon of light and a sign of God’s presence in the world. The new Jerusalem after the exile will be rebuilt not with gold, power and smug triumphalism but with integrity, justice, peace and communion with all.
Perhaps we too can learn from them and recognise the time of our own exile as an opportunity to live the Gospel and deepen our commitment. God’s Word challenges us today to not go with the flow and fall victim to fear and despair. It points us to the active presence and power of God in history. It encourages us to live as God’s faithful disciples and instruments for the world.
My dear friends,
Advent ushers us into the challenge of being a hope-filled people. Hope spurs us into action, building up God’s Kingdom that Isaiah envisions and Jesus himself spells out in his interactions with those on the margins of society. While waiting for him and the fulfilment of the Kingdom at the fullness of time, let us live our lives in faith, hope and love. The Church needs you to be the ambassadors for Christ. The Church needs you to be the messengers of God’s truth, hope and love in the world ruled by fear and despair. May you be true to your call of faithful discipleship and generous mission as you go forth living, witnessing and sharing the Good News of Christ.