Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent Year B 2021 at St Paschal’s Chapel, Box Hill, Victoria, 14 March 2021
Readings: Chronicles 36:14-23; Eph 2:4-10; John 3:14-21
God sure works in mysterious ways bringing five of you from vastly different backgrounds into the SVD family.
For Marius, it was your mother’s voluntary work at Caritas Madagascar that inspired you to respond to the needs of the poor.
For Edward, it was your work as a civil engineer in rural communities in Ghana that sparked your desire for greater service.
Hai, you were steeped in the religiosity and popular piety of your family. But your formation as an SVD has broadened your horizons. Being a religious priest entails a commitment to social justice and to being a voice for the voiceless.
Francis, you cemented your missionary vocation by your experience of multiculturalism in Australia. You are challenged to go beyond your comfort zone.
Nicolas, your life has taken a dramatic turn after 17 years of peaceful childhood in the highlands of Vietnam. Who knows where it will take you after Dorish Maru.
Your openness to the stirrings of the heart and the promptings of the Spirit has led you on a journey of great promise and blessing. The God who formed you in your mother’s womb continues to guide you, at times off the beaten track and into a great unknown. And yet, if you are sensitive to his nudging and willing to go into the deep, he will make us into his instruments.
Christianity generally and Catholicism in Australia specifically have arrived at a critical juncture. Like a river has changed course, history has reached a moment where a monumental shift has occurred in terms of how people relate to matters of religion. The flood of secularisation has washed away much of the Church we’ve known and loved. We’ve been reduced in number and status. Not long ago, the ordained enjoyed an aura of mystique and social prestige. Now that aura all but evaporated in the wake of the Royal Commission.
The Word of God for this 4th Sunday in Lent speaks of the courage to press the reset button and begin the task of building the Kingdom afresh. St Irenaeus long ago gave us a wonderful maxim and a succinct definition of the Christian faith. “The glory of God is human fully alive”. In other words, we honour God when we follow the example of Jesus who came that “all may have life and have it to the full”.
In the first reading, the Book of Chronicles speaks of God’s rather surprising and unexpected way. After decades of exile in Babylon, the people would be able to return to their homeland thanks to an unlikely hero, Cyrus the king of Persia. The prophet Isaiah even refers to Cyrus as God’s “shepherd” and, even, God’s “anointed one”. It is an extraordinary acknowledgement of a foreign ruler. God indeed could use an unlikely instrument to bring about his plan for the people.
God’s plan, however, does not stop with the benign king of Persia and his policy of repatriation. The returned exiles are to form a renewed community of faith in their homeland. Their mission is not to make Israel great again by way of restoring the Jewish monarchy. That golden era had turned out to be an illusion. Success had made them blind to God’s purposes. The exile enabled them to unlearn the way of the world and to refocus on the covenant. Their mission as they regrouped was to be a society in which the care of the most marginalised was to be the essential distinguishing feature. It was to be a contrast society in relation to the tyranny of the empire.
Brothers and sisters,
We cannot live our faith to the full without embracing the challenge of the contrast society that our Jewish forebears attested to and the Kingdom vision that Jesus proclaimed by his words and deeds. The early Christians understood the significance of being fundamentally counter-cultural in how they lived, how they related, how they shared resources and how they showed the characteristics of an alternative society.
So much of what is wrong with the Church stems from the failure to live by Jesus’ Kingdom vision. When privilege, power and dominance are more evident than love, humility and servant-hood in the Church, then the very Gospel of the servant Jesus is at stake. What we need to reclaim for the Church forcefully and unequivocally is the notion of diakonia. Your diaconal ministry will bring into sharp focus a fundamental dimension of Christian discipleship, namely the commitment to service. You are to manifest the diakonia of Christ that is a common call for all the baptised. Until we have reclaimed diakonia, the Church will be less than what Christ intends it to be.
You are called to be part of the rebirthing of the Church: the Church that might be smaller, poorer and humbler but hopefully more of a light and leaven of the Gospel to the world. We must learn to rise to Christlike way of humility, inclusivity, compassion and powerlessness. You are ordained to diaconal ministry today in the context of changing times and a corresponding heart and mind. It is like new wine in new wineskins. The old wineskins of clericalism and rigidity are no longer able to contain this new and better wine that people are yearning to drink.
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