Homily for the First Sunday of Lent in Year A 2017 with the Institution of Lectors at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, 5 March 2017
Dear brothers and sisters,
The Royal Commission has begun the so-called Catholic wrap-up. The three week final hearing focuses on not individual cases but the contributing factors and the deep causes of child sexual abuse and cover up in the Catholic Church in Australia over the last 60 years. All of the serving archbishops and several bishops including myself had to appear in front of the Commission and give our testimony in the witness box. It was not exactly like the Nuremberg trial. But in many ways, it was unprecedented.
It was a threshold moment and a transition point of profound significance for the Church in this country. Admission of systemic dysfunction, catastrophic failure and criminal negligence on the part of Church authorities of all levels gave credence to an institutional pathology. What is required for the Church to rid itself of this cancerous illness moving forward is not simply to treat the symptoms. We need to go to the root causes. We need to go back to the drawing board. We must have the courage to see how far we have strayed from the core values of the Gospel and to face up to the task of metanoia, that is, repenting of our sins and converting to the person and message of Christ, the humble suffering Servant.
The Lenten season serves us well in challenging 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 and 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 to be served but to serve and to give his life for all.
Christianity or specifically Catholicism needs 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.
Today, we also witness something of God’s doing which is new and fresh. These are the candidates for the permanent deaconate who will minister with the support and collaboration of their spouses. This does not mean the end of the celibate priesthood. It does mean though that marriage is not incompatible with Christian ministry.
On the contrary, these men by virtue of their marital commitment will enrich us with their ministry in mutuality. Perhaps this was why Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs in the first place. They teach us celibates the need to develop healthy, intimate relationships and not substitute that need with power and control. Perhaps, this is one of the signs of the times that the Church needs to discern and move forward with a renewed sense of purpose and openness to the Spirit.
Let us pray for these candidates and their families as they respond to God’s call to a life of ministry and service in the Church. Let us pray for each and every one 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. May we learn the art of living in God’s presence: our identity grounded, our commitment deepened and our mission nurtured for greater service of the kingdom.
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