Homily from 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C with the Rite of Candidacy to Holy Orders of Mr Shinto Francis at St Monica’s Parish, Richmond, 16 October, 2016
Dear friends in Christ,
God works in mysterious ways. I believe nothing happens by chance. It is he who uses all kinds of people and situations to shape us into the persons that we are today and the persons we can be tomorrow. St Paul tells us that in all things God works for the good of those who love him and who have been called according to his purpose.
I can certainly say that God has worked in mysterious ways in order to bring his plan to fulfilment in me. When I left Vietnam as a boat person, I had absolutely no idea where I would end up and how my life would unfold. Looking back, I can see the hand of God leading me through all circumstances, good and bad. I would even say that the most formative moments were often the most challenging times.
God has also worked in mysterious ways in the calling of Shinto Francis. He came from a distant land of India which claims St Thomas as its founding apostle. It would have been quite a journey for him to make. But then Thomas had made an even more challenging journey before: that of conversion to resurrection faith. Shinto too made a long journey from India to Australia. Initially it was the Missionaries of God’s love that attracted him. Then later on, he realised that he was suited for them and kept praying and searching until he was led to our Holy Spirit Seminary. The God who formed him in their mother’s womb continues to reshape him into his likeness and his instrument.
Candidacy is not merely another formal step towards the ultimate dream of a young seminarian. It should not be misconstrued as a rung on the ladder to clerical power. That notion of ordination is in fact a travesty of Christian leadership and service. To enter any form of Christian ministry is not to commit oneself to a life of comfort, social prestige and power. Quite the opposite is the case. It is a commitment to self-sacrifice, humble service and servant leadership. It is to give oneself away in a discipleship of love and service of the Kingdom. It is to follow the example of Christ who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life for others.
The readings today speak of the commitment to prayer and relationship with God which is the basis for our lives of faith, hope and love. The first reading tells us that Moses’ prayer on the mountain is responsible for Israel’s victory against the enemy. Every time Moses’ hands were raised the Israelites had the advantage. Similarly, the widow in the Gospel parable was able to obtain justice thanks to her persistent pleading. These stories don’t simply teach us to pray for what we need. They highlight the fundamental element of the Christian life, which is the grounding of our identity and the nurturing of our mission.
We live in a time of change, diminishment and uncertainty for the Church. The Royal Commission is a threshold moment of profound significance. We mourn the loss of many things: wealth, status, power and even vocations to the priesthood and religious life. But we are hopeful of a new beginning: the Church that is poor, humble but more aligned to the radical vision of Christ. After all, it’s not about numbers but more about the quality of our witness and discipleship. Hence, this time can be a blessing in disguise as it makes us less reliant on ourselves but on the power of God. Ours is not a time for activism, cynicism or nostalgia. It is a time for deepening of commitment, for grounding our identity and nurturing our mission.
In the end, though, what God asks of us is not whatever we human beings construe as success and achievement. We might never return to what many would consider the good old days. However, if the experience of the pilgrim people in the Old Testament is any guide, it is the journey and not the destination that shapes the soul. And the exodus often at its most assiduous, most trying, most soul-searching is paradoxically the most formative and life changing. Perhaps there is something profoundly formative in what the Church is going through at this very moment. The arrival of Pope Francis certainly has brought renewed hope and trust in the time that we need it the most. This evening, your commitment also gives us hope and trust in the God who strengthens and renews us at every turn.
Let us pray for Shinto, all young people discerning 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 life. 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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