Homily for the Memorial of St John Vianney, Year C, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, 04 August, 2016
Today we gather as the presbyterium, that is the ordained ministers in union with the bishop of the particular Church in order to celebrate our fraternal bonds and to renew our mission in service of God and his people. I welcome my brother priests, both diocesan and religious. I welcome deacons and their wives. I welcome our seminarians. I congratulate and acknowledge the contribution of of all our jubilarians for their service. We are united as members of the presbyterium by virtue of our ordination and mission to our particular diocesan Church.
We are in a great time of transition. The priesthood or the ordained ministry used to be the most respected profession. Not long ago, it had an aura of mystique and social prestige. Now that aura almost all but evaporated. The words of St Paul come to mind: “We have become the spectacle to the world and the refuse in the sight of others”. Sadly, that is not an exaggeration in the light of the Royal Commission and its impact on the public perception of the Catholic Church and its representatives. I don’t mean to be inappropriately facetious. But perhaps what we clergy experience can be found in the words of The Beatles song: “Suddenly I’m not half the man I used to be. Now there is a shadow hanging over me”.
No wonder many of us long for yesterday, the yesterday when there was a lot more security, stability and order in the life of the church. Suddenly the temptation to go back to the proverbial good old days is as real for us today as it was for God’s people wandering in the desert. But as Pope Francis challenges us, it is not time for us to raise our drawbridges. It is not time for us to cling to our security or to retreat to our soap bubbles. The wilderness ahead of us is daunting, disorientating and challenging. Like my boat journey as a refugee, we are cut loose from the secure moorings of the past and launched into the treacherous waters of the future. Nevertheless it is time not of fearful retreat, disengagement and self-referential pomp, but of faith and courage as we are called to accompany our people in the new exodus.
The readings today on the feast of St John Vianney, friends, embolden us in the time of transition. The time of diminishment, uncertainty and sorrow will eventually give rise to the birth of the new. Jeremiah in the first reading announces the message of hope in the time of great suffering and upheaval. The house of Israel had been fragmented, weakened and reduced to ruins by the foreign forces. In the course of his ministry, he witnessed the fall of the Solomon Temple and the ensuing state of disillusionment and hopelessness. And yet Jeremiah was able to reframe the harsh reality around him into a hopeful vision. He spoke about God’s faithful love and the renewal of Israel through suffering. He was able to see things in the perspective of God and pointed the people in the direction of the kingdom.
The Gospel also alludes to the crucial point in the journey of Jesus and his disciples towards Jerusalem. They had accompanied him; they had seen him heal the sick, feed the hungry, lift up the lowly and manifest the reign of the Kingdom by his words and deeds. But as the cross loomed large ahead, it was time for them to come to terms with the real mission of Jesus and what it truly meant to be his disciple.
Jesus therefore talks about himself in terms of an anti-hero and a counter-cultural force. He is someone who draws strength through relationships and vulnerability rather than through individual heroics and power. Peter and the other apostles were challenged to deepen and expand their narrow vision of the Messiah and their understanding of Christian discipleship. To be his follower is to walk the path of the cross. It is to lose oneself for the sake of the kingdom. It is to commit oneself not to self-preservation but to self-sacrifice for the sake of others. Jesus challenges us as he challenged Peter to abandon a self-centred way of thinking and living, and to embrace God’s way of self-emptying love.
My fellow ministers and friends,
“Create a clean heart in me”. These words of the Psalm today serve as a reminder to us of the need for conversion and renewed faithfulness to Christ. John Vianney was a model of priestly zeal, prayer and a heart with burning love. As men of God, nothing is more important than our personal unmitigated relationship with Jesus Christ. Let our love and faithfulness to Christ spur us on. May we be strengthened to walk the journey of faith with our people, proclaim the message of hope, the signs of the new Kairos and lead them in the direction of the kingdom. May all of us enact the rhythm of the paschal mystery of dying and rising in the pattern of our Lord who is the Alpha and the Omega.
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