Homily for the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord in Year B 2018 with the Rite of Ordination to the Diaconate of Jessie Balorio at Holy Family Church, Luddenham, 12 May 2018
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 as far as I am concerned. When I left Vietnam as a boat person, I had absolutely no idea where I would end up and how my life would unfold. I still do not know how I moved from a paddy field to a refugee camp and now as a bishop in Parramatta. Looking back, I can see the hand of God leading me through all of life’s changing fortunes, the good, the bad and the ugly. I would even say that the most challenging times often turned out to be the most transformative.
Eight years ago, Jessie was transferred to the Australian Province of the Augustinians from his native Philippines. Then after four more years of religious formation, Jessie felt restless and decided to explore the diocesan vocation. He gradually came to discover the meaning of the journey that was unknown to him at the time he began his vocational journey. He was accepted into our Holy Spirit Seminary and from then on, Jessie learned to begin again as a junior. Openness to the journey of life with all its twists and turns, its lights and shadows is critical in one’s formation. The ability to learn from the unexpected and to begin again is central to the journey of Christian discipleship.
That ability is particularly needed for Christian leadership in critical times. The church is Australia is at a crossroads. We have lost much ground, numerically, financially and worst of all, morally. Australian Catholicism is a seriously damaged brand, at least at the level of public perception. We have been battered and bruised. We’ve been reduced in number and status. The clerical status used to be among the most respected. Not long ago, it had an aura of mystique and social prestige. Now that aura all but evaporated. We are in a new territory.
I’d like to think of this critical juncture as the new exile. I’d like to think of priests, deacons, not just as ground troops for the church but as prophets who accompany their people, point to them the signs of the new Kairos and lead them in the direction of the Kingdom. In this perspective, you are not merely the replacement of the ageing local forces. You are not merely plugging holes so to speak. Instead, you are part of the rejuvenation or the rebirthing of the church: the church that dies to power, domination, ostentation and rises to humility, simplicity and servanthood; the church that might be smaller, poorer and humbler but more of a light and leaven of the Gospel to the world.
Today, we celebrate the Ascension of Christ, which marks a critical turning point for the disciples. It is now their turn to carry on the Kingdom vision of Jesus and to enact the new future inaugurated by him. They can no longer remain passive. Instead, they are challenged to do the works of Jesus. The Ascension, then, is a moment of transition. The church, the People of God, the Body of Christ, commissioned by Jesus and guided by the Holy Spirit, is now the visible presence of God here on earth. The Ascension turns the focus on the church as the sacrament of God’s presence in the world, as the vehicle for his grace and the herald of the Gospel.
No easy task when we seem to be troubled on all sides. Yet, as Pope Francis challenges us in the Joy of the Gospel, it is not time for us to pull up our drawbridges. It is not time for us to cling to our security or to retreat to our soap bubbles. Our wilderness or our exile is daunting, disorientating and challenging. In the pope’s words, we are bruised, hurt and dirty. The wind of secularisation has blown away what’s left of our defences. Nevertheless, it is time not of fearful retreat, disengagement and worse still, self-referential pomp, but of faith and courage as we are called to accompany our people in the new exodus.
“The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and give his life for many”. Let these words be our motto as Christians, and Jessie’s motto of life especially as a deacon. Let it guide your ministry and form you as the minister of the Gospel. May what we celebrate today serve to remind us of our commitment to the vision of Jesus which is to build God’s Kingdom on right relationships, peace, justice and love. Let us go forward in our mission to make a difference in the world, confident of the victory of Christ and his promise to be with us till the end of time.
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