Homily for the Votive Mass of St Patrick at Patrician Brothers College, Blacktown, 9 June 2017
Dear friends at Patrician Brothers,
It is often said that God works in mysterious ways and I am a living proof of it for better or for worse. Many years ago, I fled communist Vietnam on a boat, destination unknown. Eventually, I did make it to Australia but I was quite uncertain about the future in a strange new world. Yet, notwithstanding my background, God called me to be his instrument: first as a Franciscan, and then as a priest and finally as a bishop. I am proud to be an unlikely bishop in Australia and I hope that my being a former refugee combined with my Franciscan love of the poor will enable me to appreciate the struggles of others. My episcopal motto, “go further into the deep” is both a reminder of my refugee heritage and a challenge to journey with others, to stand in solidarity with those who struggle for freedom, justice, dignity and inclusion.
Today, we celebrate St Patrick who was the example par excellence of God’s unlikely instrument. Born and raised in Wales, Patrick was captured by the Irish raiders and taken as a slave to Ireland, all at the tender age of 16. After having survived the ordeal of being kept in chains on the slave-trading ship, Patrick lived out his miserable existence for 6 years in a foreign country before escaping and returning to his family. But he did not stay for long in the comfort and safety of his home. Patrick spoke about the experience of hearing the voice of the Irish, pleading him to return. “We appeal to you servant boy, come back and walk among us”. Well, not only did he return to the land of his captivity, he transformed it in a way no other figure in Irish history has done since. He became the greatest apostle to that nation and by extension to those countries like Australia, which are profoundly shaped by Irish Catholics. Who could have imagined that a former slave and a foreigner would achieve so much and earn a place in history? Yet that is consistently the way of God. He uses unlikely individuals to advance his cause.
The Word of God that we have heard also speaks about the courage to move beyond sheltered lives, explore new possibilities, to expand our horizons and to grow into the persons we are destined to be. We are told that the disciples had called it a day. They had brought their boats to the shore and had washed their nets. Then this smart Alec who plied his trade as a carpenter had the gall to teach them how to fish: “Put out into deep water and pay out your nets for a catch”. The disciples reluctantly obeyed and they were overwhelmed by the unexpected results. But the challenge was much more than a way of fishing. It was a way of living. “Put out into the deep” means not to stay anchored in your comfort zones, not to be content with status quo, not to bury our talent like the fearful servant, but to take necessary risks, to maximise our potential and to be all we are capable of being. In the words of the Galilee Song, “put out into the deep” means to walk past the horizons that I know and to live beyond the fears that close me in. When we go where the Spirit leads us, even to the extent of leaving our boats behind, like the disciples did, the results can be amazing.
This is the theme that Pope Francis often talks about. For him, living the Gospel has little to do with security, comfort, complacency and mediocrity. A self-serving and self-preserving mentality goes against the very nature of what it means to be a Christian. He challenged us not to dabble in mediocrity, not to prefer security and familiarity, not to cling to status quo at the expense of God’s comprehensive and radical dream for humanity. The pope from the periphery wants us to go to the margins, to stay close to those on the edges of life. It is the church that dares to do what Jesus did: to be all that it can be for the sake of others.
My dear friends,
Patrick was a person of courage. If there was anyone who exemplifies courage for us, it was Patrick who kept travelling beyond the familiar shores and into new uncharted territories. He was motivated by the desire to make a difference to other people’s lives. He truly showed us the courage of living life to the full and growing into the full stature of Christ.
As we gather to give thanks for the life and example of St Patrick, let us be inspired to strive for what lies ahead, mindful of the way our pioneers have passed on to us his great legacy. Jesus Christ is the true source of our hope. For his life, death and resurrection have launched the course of history irreversibly in the direction of the kingdom. While working towards the kingdom vision of Jesus, let us live our lives in faith, hope and love. Let us do everything we are inspired to do to bring about a better future and a better world for all. May we be open to the guidance of the spirit as we journey with each other and together meet the challenge of delivering new life for the world.
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