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Homily - 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Bishop McKeown


Sunday, 26 June 2022 

We have now left behind the months of big feasts – and are returning to the Gospel according to Luke. We use the term Ordinary Time for these Sundays – but there is never anything ordinary about Jesus' life and teaching. We join St Luke's story at a critical point in Jesus' public life. After much time spent in Galilee, he now resolutely takes the road for Jerusalem. The rest of the Gospel is the story of his journey to his death, a tough road that he takes on with determination, whatever the cost might be. What might we learn as we continue our synodal pathway in the country and around the world?

Firstly, the writings of St Luke are full of journeys. Mary journeys to visit Elizabeth and then to Bethlehem. Jesus goes to Jerusalem and then back to the Father. And the early Church moves from being locked in an upper room in Jerusalem to preaching the Gospel in Rome – en route to the ends of the earth. The Church of Jesus is never going backwards. Every Calvary is part of the journey. Every crisis is an opportunity for renewal. Every apparent loss is a chance for new life. Conversion means giving up things that we thought precious in order to let Christ upset our blinkered plans. There is a widespread temptation in Church to complain and criticise. One narrative sees the future as gloomy and full of problems as outsiders seem to have the upper hand. Jesus knows what awaits him Jerusalem – yet he starts into that journey with determination. He is prepared to face the challenge – because God is in charge. In his teaching and miracles, he has shown that the Kingdom of God has begun and that the devil can never have the upper hand. The church can produce all sorts of great programmes that teach the content of faith. But unless, despite the problems, we make the church a place of courage and hope, we labour in vain. Jesus wants people to hear of the hope that he has won for us, not complaints about the things we think we have lost. Are we prepared to resolutely take the road ahead of us?

The church can produce all sorts of great programmes that teach the content of faith. But unless, despite the problems, we make the church a place of courage and hope, we labour in vain.

by Bishop Donal
Secondly, freedom is a much-used modern world. We are told that we should be free to make choices about all sorts of things – and that our choices are good as well as beyond criticism. And despite the endless choices, so many people can feel paralysed by pressures to choose, by the pressures to conform. For many people there is the experience of being mentally imprisoned by substance abuse or childhood memories, by poverty and loneliness. We are told we have so much freedom that earlier generations did not have – and yet we have no guidance as how we might use and enjoy that freedom. St Paul addresses the idea of freedom in our second reading. One spiritual author was asked a question by worried parents. They were concerned about handing on morality to their children. He drew a small square in the corner of a page and said that this represented Christ's commandments. And then he drew a large square covering the rest of the page. That, he said, is freedom. That is what interests God. Your task is to teach your children to be free. (Cf T Radcliffe, What is the Point of Being a Christian? 2005, p.30). Freedom implies that we have the ability to make at least some choices in life. Right from the start, we saw Adam and Eve making one bad decision! Jesus is concerned with helping us make good decisions. St Paul tells the Galatians to choose to do good, whatever the cost. Self-serving self-indulgence is destructive of human dignity and self-respect. We all know the prison that is built by bad decisions, taken under pressure from within ourselves or because of others. Jesus had the freedom to choose the journey to Jerusalem. The Gospel is clear that he was always led by the Spirit. A church that is led by the Spirit will choose, not the easy road but the right road. Discernment means discovering together where God is leading us. The church will bear witness to Jesus, not by taking populist and short-sighted choices but by helping people to make Jesus-like grace-filled choices. Can we witness to the liberating freedom of the children of God in a world that is drowning in freedom because no-one dares to teach it how to swim?

Thirdly, the bible is full of people who freely choose to make the costly decision to follow the divine call. Elijah and Elisha are remembered because they took the road less travelled. In the Gospel, Jesus encounters people of good will who are conflicted when it comes to taking him literally and following Jesus. His words to them may seem harsh. But, elsewhere in the Gospel, discovering the love of Jesus is compared to finding a treasure in a field or a pearl of great price and being prepared to give everything for it. True freedom comes when we are drawn irresistibly by the love of Jesus. Holiness means discovering that, beside the love of God, everything else is merely dust and ashes. Only a prayerful heart will be able to make wise and graced decisions. The future of the Irish church lies not in importing clergy to keep the institution going, but in helping young people here to make outrageously generous decisions so that God can renew his mission in the church. He still invites people to put the hand to the plough.

Can I suggest some themes for prayer this week as we face into the school holidays and a time when many will hope to get away?

Pray that we will discover what it means to freely follow Christ. Learn to know his generous heart and pray for the strength to imitate it. Don't be afraid to listen to his promptings.

Pray for the grace to believe that Christ's yoke is easy and his burden light. Be grateful for where you are in life and seek the next step on the way forward.

Finally, ask Jesus to cleanse your heart of any sense of being a victim. Frightened or defensive hearts are not free to make good decisions. Our society is soured by a pervasive sense of victimhood. Jesus gathers us to be a people that face the future with trust. And in the midst of must pain, we need to gather each week.

Christ's time is never ordinary time!

+ Donal McKeown


Diocese of Derry - Synod Report

The people of the Diocese of Derry have taken part in parish discussions, online contributions and deanery gatherings during recent months in response to the call from Pope Francis about the next Synod.

The fruit of this listening has been collated and a synthesis is now submitted to form part of a national synthesis. This diocesan document is published at the link below for reading and sharing.

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