Ordination Homily of Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen, OFM Conv. (Bishop Elect of Parramatta, Australia)
At my Episcopal Ordination a few years ago, I announced that we Vietnamese are the new Irish of the Catholic Church in Australia. That might not be a great compliment to the Irish, but I think it is true in some unexpected ways. We the Vietnamese, it seems, are destined to help change the Eurocentric face of the Catholic Church in Australia. In business, we’ve already cornered the bakery, hair salon, pedicure, manicure and even the waxing markets. In the ecclesiastical world, the writing is already on the wall. This weekend here in Sydney I ordain 3 Vietnamese candidates to holy orders. Then next week of course my installation will signal something of a watershed moment.
To say that we the church in Australia are at a critical juncture is probably an understatement. Australian Catholicism is a seriously damaged brand, at least at the level of public perception in the wake of the Royal Commission. We have been battered and bruised. We’ve been reduced in strength and status. The clerics 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 an uncharted territory.
I’d like to think of this critical juncture as analogous to the biblical exile. I’d like to think of us ordained ministers as those prophets who accompany their people in the exile, 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 diminishing and ageing local forces (and I am not looking at anyone in particular). Instead, you are part of the rejuvenation or the rebirthing of the church: the church that dies to power, domination, clericalism and rises to humility, simplicity and servant-hood; the church that might be smaller, poorer and humbler but hopefully more of a light and leaven of the Gospel to the world.
Dear friends, the readings today speak about the mission of hope and renewal in the time of uncertainty. The first reading tells us about the call of Moses at the burning bush. He had retreated from tumult of leading his people, to the tranquility of his father in law’s farm. However, Moses was challenged to take up that mission impossible again because of the cry of God’s people. I think we priests can resonate with Moses’ feelings. At times, we just want to get away from it all. We feel that what we do today is like mission impossible. What’s happening in the Church and the wider society really tests our resolve to serve and to persevere. Yet as Moses found out, it was God who ultimately changed the seemingly hopeless situation into life-giving reality. In the new exile, the question that should occupy our minds is how can we live and minister in such a way that the remnant people can flourish again. Our love for God and his people and our resolve to serve will clear the path towards a vision of hope for all.
In the Gospel story, we are told of the apparent failure of the disciples. “Master, we toiled all night and caught nothing. But we’ll try again because of your command”. Against all the odds, they put their nets into the deep and caught a great catch of fish. In John’s version, the command is even more striking. “Throw your nets out to starboard” says Jesus. Starboard actually means the steering side and no one would risk entangling the nets by throwing them on the same side. Therefore, Jesus’ command was a challenge to do things differently, to go beyond their set routines and against the entrenched patterns of thinking and behaviour. That seems to be Jesus’ modus operandi. He had a habit of challenging people’s ingrained attitudes, of breaking social taboos, redefining and expanding the boundaries of love. There is that famous song called “I want to know what love is” which is one of my favourites. Well, folks, Jesus has the answer to that quest in his words, gestures and actions. It is his radical vision of love, inclusion and human flourishing that ought to guide our pastoral response.
Thanh (Thomas) & Truc (Peter), you are being ordained to proclaim and embody that radical vision. Your ordination today brings joy, hope and even renewal to us. The Church and your Passionist Province are rejuvenated by your youthfulness, reinvigorated by your commitment and enriched by your gifts. Even though we do not know when the better future for the Church might be, we are comforted and strengthened by your companionship. The journey might be uncertain but it will be less daunting when walked together knowing that Christi’s love for us is never ending. We pray that Christ’s self-sacrificial love which you will celebrate daily at the altar, will nourish and strengthen you on the journey that you have just begun. We pray that the inestimable treasure kept in the earthen vessel that is you may reveal to all the God whose power is in weakness, whose wisdom is in foolishness, whose victory is in the cross and whose love is in self-sacrifice.