Homily for the Easter Vigil in the Holy Night in Year A 2017 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, 15 April 2017
My dear friends,
It is a great privilege for me to celebrate this first Easter Vigil Mass with you as your bishop. I’d like to welcome you warmly to our Cathedral as you have welcomed me to this great diocese. I’d like to welcome the RCIA candidates who will shortly be initiated into the full communion with the Church. With all the bad publicity around, one wonders if it is a good time to remain a Catholic, let alone to become one. Yet, here you are a proof, not of the Church’s success, but of God’s power in human weakness.
I want to thank you for living out your faith in a challenging environment. We have faced many challenges before: persecution, hardship, division, unbelief, hostility etc. But perhaps never in the history of the Church in Australia and in the Western world generally, have we ever faced the challenge of epic proportions like the current crisis. It strikes at the heart of the Church. It exposes the deep-seated cultural malaise of the institution. Some would even say that the Church is sick to the core.
We have to admit that we have drifted from the kingdom vision of Jesus. Instead of demonstrating that fundamental ethos of care for the most vulnerable, the Church has been shown to care primarily for its own security, reputation and interests. Like the parable in the Gospel, we leaders in the Church at times have given the battered children stone instead of bread, snake instead of fish. No wonder many are disillusioned and have walked away.
The Gospel tonight speaks of the frustration and disillusionment of the disciples as they find an empty tomb instead of their Master. Perhaps, their experience is not unique. Many also search for Jesus in the Church and instead find it empty and void of life and love. It is incumbent on us especially as leaders and ministers to gain your trust and to make the Church again the place where people can meet and experience the risen Lord.
In order for us to be like the re-gathered community in which the Easter Christ was encountered, we need to embrace and live fully the paschal rhythm. It is the most fundamental call of the Gospel. We cannot live life to the full if we gloss over the inconvenient truths about ourselves. As the Church, we need to die to that which is not of Christ in order to rise again to all that Christ and his Gospel stand for. We need to die to being an experience of exclusion and condemnation and to rise to being an encounter of radical love, inclusiveness and solidarity. We need to die to worldly power in all its forms and rise to the Christ’s subversive way of simplicity, vulnerability and powerlessness.
The crisis that we are facing can also be an opportunity for authentic renewal. Indeed, it has ushered in a new Kairos, a graced time that promises new energy, that transforms the Church into a life-giving force and a leaven. Pope Francis said poignantly that we are not living in an era of change but change of era. By this, he means that we need to live up to our fundamental call to be “ecclesia semper reformanda” or the Church always in need of reform to be in sync with the movement of the Holy Spirit and direction of the Kingdom. It is not “business as usual”. There needs to be an attitudinal change at every level, a conversion of mind and heart that conforms us to the spirit of the Gospel.
The Easter story does not end with Mary in grief. It tells us of her encounter with the Risen Lord who calls out her name and sends her out on a mission of proclaiming to others the Good News of the Resurrection. We too need to hear our names called and our personal relationship with the Lord reaffirmed. In the midst of our despair and uncertainty, we need to hear the affirmation of Our Lord with crystal clarity: “Be not afraid”
Be not afraid to launch into the deep, to journey beyond the known boundaries of our worldview. More importantly, be not afraid to die to that which is not worthy of Christ, that which is like the old wineskins unable to contain the new wine God is pouring. The Church must constantly pattern itself on the death and resurrection of Christ.
As we mourn the death of the old way of being Church, we are not without hope. The risen Christ shows us the way forward. He also empowers us to be agents of change and partners with him in the furtherance of God’s reign. God’s ways often involve the pain of letting go, of beginning again, of going forward with hope and trust. Let us endeavour to live the rhythm of Christ dying and rising in the Church and in all facets of our lives. Then we can be certain that the loving God will bring about renewal and transformation as He brought Jesus Christ to life from the dead.
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