Homily - Chrism Mass 2018 - Bishop Donal McKeown

Homily - Chrism Mass 2018 - Bishop Donal McKeown


This Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday morning is the one occasion in the year when we can gather as a diocesan Church – lay faithful, religious and clergy. And the readings make it clear that we do not define who we are. We may feel under pressure or full of enthusiasm or proud of our achievements – but the first identity that we have is as a people who seek to be led by the Spirit. We gather, not to lament or to boast, but to discern.

One thing that we learn from the Bible is that, wherever the Lord leads his people, that is a good place to be. In retrospect, the long, weary journey through the Desert out of Egypt was a good place because it was a time of learning. The journey to Calvary may have seemed a disaster – but it was the high point of salvation history. Where we are now is a good time and every cross is adorned with graces. We gather today to be reminded of our mission to work with the Lord in bringing good news to the poor.It is never about poor wee us or what we consider bad news.

Thus any pastoral planning for the diocese has to ask only one question – how can we, in our current situation, adapt in order to be fit for mission so that Jesus' name will be glorified? That means recognising the sometimes uncomfortable facts of where we are and still setting out in faith.

And the response that we hope to present over the next few months has some core themes.

Firstly, in a world that tends to emphasise individualism, we say that we are a people that wishes to be led by the Spirit. Individually we do not belong to ourselves. Together we are the Body of Christ, not our own institution. That means focussing our energies on building up our local parish communities so that they can be places where real people are helped to become saints. That means enabling every parish community to have adult conversations about the pastoral priorities of their area – and putting in place ways to hand on the faith to old and young. All of that will involve formation of parishioners so that they can engage in these conversations. Just as the priest is there, not to be helped in his work, but to build up the lay faithful to do their work, so too the diocesan structures are there only to co-ordinate, support and resource the parish communities. The bishop does not delegate power to others so much as ensure that the Spirit of God is at the heart of the local decision making processes.

This is a lesson that we have been slow to learn. Many of us have grown up with a clergy-led, service-provider model of Church. But Pope John Paul II in 1988 quoted the Vatican Council's teaching on the parish, 'not principally as a territory but as "the family of God, a fellowship afire with a unifying spirit", "a familial welcoming home."[1] In 2001 talked about the need for a 'spirituality of communion' .. 'to make the Church the home and school of communion'.[2] Pope Benedict talked about the need for 'co-responsibility' in leading the parish and Pope Francis reminded us that the clergy are there at the service of developing the apostolates of the laity. This is a time when we have to allow ourselves to be Spirit-led in becoming a different model of Church, fit for 2018.

Secondly, these local parish communities are not to retreat behind barriers or let themselves be forced to retreat behind high walls of certitude. A missionary church is always going out in faith, not hiding in fear. That was the lesson that was learned very clearly on Pentecost morning so that the Spirit could be experienced by the Apostles. There are those who would like to so demoralise church members that they take shelter behind protective walls. Jesus in today's Gospel did not retreat to a quiet monastery to seek perfection. His form of spiritual maturing would take place with fishermen and sinners, at meals with sinners. He would learn to obey through suffering.

Thus a self-defensive church is not Christ's church. When people attack us and find fault with how we are behaving of have behaved in the past, the missionary heart asks what we have to learn from the criticisms. The missionary heart asks why a person is so angry or aggressive. A prayerful missionary church is an expert at listening rather than at reacting. Our concern needs to be for those who are hurting in our streets and on our streets, not on our discomfort. Pope John Paul wrote that 'we must ensure that in every Christian community the poor feel at home'[3] Criticism did not keep Jesus in his box or make him afraid to come to Jerusalem. A frightened Church has much to learn from Holy Week.

Thirdly, an adult mature faith nourishes the head with formation, the hands with outreach to those in need – and the heart with prayer. The first commandment is to love God with our hearts, souls and minds. A Church that is not a school of prayer will not stay the course.

Thankfully, many of our parishes provide a wide range of opportunities for prayer – before the Blessed Sacrament, through well-prepared liturgies, in Lectio Divina or other types of prayer groups. One of the great challenges for Ireland as we prepare for the World Meeting of Families is to help families – of whatever sort – to pray together in ways that are appropriate for them.

Prayer is about relationship with the God of the universe – and it is best learned in the context of domestic relationships, no matter how imperfect they may be. If the parish is the key local focus for belonging – the familial welcoming home that Pope John Paul II talked about, then the first classes in that discovery have to take place in the home. That was why Pope John Paul was clear that 'it is essential that education in prayer should become a key-point of all pastoral planning'.[4] Only a praying Church will be a Spirit-led Church. Otherwise we risk being so busy with our projects or our complaints or our comfort, that we do not make space for the uncomfortable voice of the Spirit who led Jesus into the wilderness, overshadowed Mary with grace at the Annunciation and sent the Apostle out on Pentecost.

We are at a time of profound change in how we are Church in Ireland. The Spirit invites us as a diocesan community to listen. If we are an outward-looking community of prayer, we will be led along the Lord's way. If we harden our hearts and fail to listen to his voice we will not have heard the message of today's readings.

+Donal McKeown

Bishop of Derry

Chrism Mass - Holy Thursday - 29th March 2018

St Eugene's Cathedral, Derry


[1] Christifidekes Laici, 1988, para 26 

[2] Novo Millennip Ineunte, 2001, para 43 

[3] Ibid., para 50 [4] Ibid, para 34

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