Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year B 2018 with the blessing of the renovations of St Oliver Plunkett’s Church
9 September 2018
It is with great joy that we gather here at St Oliver Plunkett’s to give thanks to God and to invoke His blessing upon this newly refurbished Church. It is a significant day for the parishioners who – under the leadership of Fr Chris de Souza, Pastor and Vicar General – have made this project possible. It is also a significant day for the Holy Spirit Seminary as this Church and parish community play a vital part in the formation of our seminarians.
As we praise God in this beautifully restored Church, we commit ourselves to the greater task of restoring the Body of Christ, which is broken and wounded in so many ways.
Today, we find ourselves at the moment in history where the Church is in serious crisis. I do not need to remind you of all the problems that we face. Suffices to say that we have a formidable task of rebuilding the Church’s reputation, credibility and most of all its moral stature in the wake of the sexual abuse crisis.
Now is the time, the favourable moment or in biblical language, the Kairos for us to join with Pope Francis in repairing and restoring the Body of Christ. Now is the time for us to rebuild the Church not necessarily into a proud and powerful institution reminiscent of some bygone era. Rather, our task during this time of cleansing and purification is to become what we are meant to be: salt of the earth and light of the world.
During the time of the Roman persecution, the Church gathered in places like the catacombs. It was poor, persecuted and few in numbers. Yet it shone like a beacon of hope in the world.
Today, in the midst of diminishment, we can learn to spread the fragrance of the Gospel and to shine like the Church of the catacombs.
The Word of God this Sunday helps us to come to terms with our present situation and live it with courage, faith and hope. It speaks metaphorically of healing, restoration and renewal through times of hardship and adversity.
In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah comforts his people during the long and harrowing exile. Many of them have given up their ancestors’ faith and drifted away. Only a small group remain steadfast and these come to be known in the prophetic literature as the faithful remnants or the “Anawim”.
These faithful are not the former religious or political elites but often the poor, the dispossessed and the disadvantaged. Yet it is the “riff-raff” who are identified metaphorically by Isaiah as the blind, the deaf, the lame and the dumb are the ones chosen to rebuild Israel. It is the strength of their faith, endurance and steadfastness that facilitates the working of grace in vulnerability. It is no wonder that they are seen as precursors embodying the spirit of the Humble Suffering Servant.
This is a sobering and poignant lesson for the Church today. Like the Jewish exiles of old, we find ourselves in a new captivity; we are surrounded by a unfamiliar and even hostile landscape; we are adrift in the treacherous waters of a post-Christian world. The litmus test for us as it was for the faithful remnants is not to fight for the securities of the past but to grow strong in our faith through times of chaos.
Thus Isaiah’s call for the community of faith to regain its role as changing agent in society is so prophetic for us. We have much to learn from our ancestors in faith. We must learn to be once again the Church that embodies the divine pathos, that dares to minister like Jesus at human thresholds of vulnerability. In the words of St James, we must be the egalitarian, inclusive and loving community.
The Gospel reinforces this notion that God works his healing and restoring power through the humble and the faithful. Jesus is found journeying through the Decapolis region. It is way out of his familiar and comfort zone. The Decapolis, meaning ten towns, is a mixed-race region with a bit of a rough reputation. Yet, it is here in the precarious places and among the marginalised people that Jesus ministers. As he does to the tax collectors and sinners, he engages with the deaf person in a way that makes himself vulnerable. He put his fingers into the person’s ears and touched his tongue with spittle. In Jesus, God comes into direct contact with the thresholds of human vulnerability and insecurity. He transforms them into openings of grace.
Brothers and sisters,
We thank God for this beautifully restored Church here at Harris Park, which is fast becoming like the Decapolis hopefully minus a rough reputation. We are called to be a community of engagement, solidarity and communion. Like the faithful exiles, we learn the art of agile, resilient, humble and faithful witness in times of diminishment. Like Jesus, we learn to minister at the thresholds recognising the face of God in our brothers and sisters.
Let our hearts expand to accommodate the ways of God and let us become catalysts for renewal and transformation through our commitment to the Gospel values. Let us learn the art of living deeply in God’s love, attentive to his presence and responsive to his call. Then we can rebuild the Church as the Body of Christ into a visible sacrament of his presence and love.