Homily for Rite of Election at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, 5 March 2017
It is always a great cause for rejoicing and celebration when new members are added to a family. It is even more so when that family happens to be a Catholic Church which is facing – shall we say – a few challenges. With all the negative publicity, one wonders if it is a good time to remain a Catholic, let alone to become one.
By many accounts, the Church is not exactly flourishing. Its numbers seem to be going down while its troubles seem to be going up – at least in Australia anyway. The doomsayers would say that the Church is dying and there is no future at all for it. I happen to think that they are right – but only half right. Yes, the Church is dying; it needs to die to that which is unworthy of Christ.
It is also rising again to new life and to what Christ calls it to be: a sacrament of God’s presence and love in the world. As people of faith, we are called to live the rhythm of dying and rising, mindful of the words of St Paul “We always carry around the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus is also shown.”
The Lenten season serves us well in reminding of the rhythm of dying and rising. It challenges us to embark on the journey of conversion. Lent of course reminds us of the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness. Whereas the people of God – like Adam and Eve – faltered in the face of temptation, Jesus remained steadfast, firmly grounded and utterly committed to the way that God had envisaged for him. Lent therefore invites us to live the wilderness experience of Jesus, to walk the same long and hard road with him to Jerusalem and to embrace a discipleship of humility, weakness and vulnerability.
The Gospel tells us about Jesus being tempted three times. First, the temptation to turn stones into bread is essentially the temptation to opt for the quick fix and the easy way out. I bet you have been tempted in this way many a time. It’s in our human nature. We want to be in control, to have everything at our disposal. Jesus shows us an alternative. It’s the way of vulnerable trust.
The second temptation is to be the superhero. It’s the cult of popularity and individual heroism which is rampant in our society. Jesus does not buy into this illusion. He does not throw himself down from the parapet of the temple or later, the cross. He endures it to the end. He shows us the way of enduring love.
Finally, Jesus is tempted to have power and glory. But he rejects the devil’s way and holds fast to the way of God. The seduction of greatness is one that not only the early disciples of Jesus found it hard to resist. It is a perennial temptation that time and again Christians individually as collectively have succumbed to. In fact, the history of imperial Christendom shows that power, dominance, privilege, control and clericalism has characterised our attitudes and practices more than service, self-sacrifice, vulnerability and powerlessness of the humble Servant. Our call today is to be the kingdom builders whose priority is not to expand and dominate but to build, to mend and to strengthen communities and relationships.
Scriptures highlight for us today what it means to be a disciple. In the world which is deeply suspicious of institutional religions, only the true measure of discipleship counts. We need to be purified of all that is the antithesis of the Gospel spirit. Equally, we need to convert to the humble and servant Christ, one who came not be served but to serve and to give his life for all.
Christianity or specifically Catholicism need to regain not so much its former influence in an increasing secular society, but the quality of its witness by the depth of our integrity and our commitment to be servants of the world. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to greater conversion: from power to humility, from dominion to service, from privilege to self-sacrifice.
You are the living proof of God’s mysterious and surprising ways. Your commitment and entry into the life of the Church is a source of encouragement and hope for us. You are the proof that Christ is dying and rising again in our midst. I do not mean that in a merely numbers game. No, it is much more than that. Pope Francis said that our business is not primarily about conversions but spreading the fragrance of the Gospel. May you be permeated and enlivened throughout so that you may in turn spread the beauty of God’s love in Christ.
May everything we do be inspired or grounded in the one who came to serve and not to be served.
Let us pray for these candidates and their families as they respond to God’s call to being disciples of Jesus. Let us pray for each and everyone of us as we endeavour to live the call of the Christian discipleship in an age of mistrust and scepticism. May the God who accompanies His people lead us out of darkness into the new dawn of hope.
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