6 minutes reading time (1228 words)

Homily - Fourth Sunday in Lent - Bishop McKeown

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The Lenten journey drives us on relentlessly – because Christ is preparing us to face the awful reality of Holy Week. Today – just three weeks from Easter Sunday - Jesus points to the fact that the twisted human logic so often prefers darkness to light – but that Jesus offers us an escape from the mess that is of our own making. But we have to choose whether we are ready to let light shine on dark corners of our lives. What blessings might we receive if we take today's readings to heart?

Firstly, when Jesus talks of the hidden darkness that pervades our lives, he is not referring to something distant and spiritual. Our culture is full of stories about painful situations and the truth coming out. Films, novels, soap operas, documentaries – they all tell of secrets being revealed. Individually and communally, we all have a chequered past. So, the question is not whether we can claim to be white as the driven snow but how we deal with our real story. Claiming the moral high ground can be a diversionary tactic rather than a serious engagement with truth. Those who love to condemn others can have the most unresolved issues in their own stories.

There is a current temptation, on the one hand, to depict Church and faith as the epitome of evil, to be banished from decent society. The reaction can be equally short-sighted and ideological. Our three readings today talk of God loving us, when we were in need of saving. Salvation, a share in God's life, is given to us, not because we have done great things, but as a free gift. God's merciful hand is the artist who can create something marvellous from the mixed bag that we all are and have been. Today's readings invite us to view the past with humility and mercy, if we are to look to the future with hope. Jesus died on the Cross to process the pain of the past. He wants us to bring our mistakes and pain to the foot of the Cross. He can cope with it.

Secondly, the Gospel contains that most famous of quotations about God so loving the world that he gave his only Son. That is the mission that Jesus has – and the only mission that the Church can have. It is easy to calibrate the mission of the Church to fit in with other agendas and priorities. It is difficult to keep the prophetic voice of Jesus alive when we can be tempted to side with the strong and powerful. Blindness has constantly damaged our ability to love the world in Jesus' name, using hatred for evil as a cover for not daring to love and heal people with outrageous divine mercy.

Thus, any renewal of Church has to be based on renewing the mission of helping the world know that it is divinely loved and called to greatness. We have a wave of short-term suggestions as to what must be done if the Church is to be renewed. Some portray the core issues as being about who should be ordained, how decisions are taken and how the Truth is taught. But in this country, we are coming out of a model of keeping a system ticking over. We are failing Christ's mission and going absolutely nowhere if our only priority is to follow passing human agendas in order to fit in. Christ's message is meant to be disruptive of the status quo, not subservient to it. Thus, the synodal language that is being used about church is not about developing a parliamentary approach to church where power blocks propose their agendas for a vote. That reduces Church to a human earth-bound institution with competing tainted human priorities. The early Church was Spirit driven, despite blinkered agendas and hang-ups. Christ's Church has to find God's way forward, not ours. Too often, we lost our prophetic voice in the past. It would be awful if we were to keep Christ's radical mission out of his Church in our own day in order to avoid criticism. The world needs God's abundant love and mercy and not merely a tame politically correct shadow of what Christ's Church could be.

Thirdly, the story of divine self-sacrificing love for sinners is meant to inspire us, not to create gloom. Please God, we are moving towards an end to the pandemic restrictions. That will be a challenge for many. All our parishes need to be planning for how they identify and respond to the needs of their local communities. Thank God, the old normal has gone for good. There is the temptation to lament the passing of the old rather than start planning for the new future. Other people make their decisions. As parish communities, we are responsible for the decisions that we take and the plans we put in place. As the old saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail. Our scripture readings show a God who is passionate about bringing life, even when others thought that everything was dead and crushed. All our parishes have remarkable numbers of good, committed, generous people and various premises. The call is to help communities – whether they were active churchgoers or not – to believe that God so loves the world and desires to save it from itself, not merely condemn it for its mistakes. Broken hearts will be healed, not by our sweet, timid words but by encountering the overwhelming mercy and love of God in word and in sacrament. God is super-abundant in divine generosity. Church has to mirror that heart and not our own frightened timidity.

We continue our Lenten towards Easter. The evil of the human heart has to be recognised if it is to be healed by God's mercy. Fighting evil in God's name will cost everything, as we see from Jesus on the Cross. But evil can be defeated, not by our passing ideological tin gods and goddesses but by self-giving dedication to love the world that so often seems to prioritise confrontation and smashing the enemy out there. The light of Christ challenges us to us to acknowledge the enemy within ourselves before we demand the end to the faults of others. Only divine mercy will enable us to glimpse God's dreams that will burst out at Easter. Jesus will show that Resurrection is possible, despite our low human expectations. Our Lenten journey of prayer, penance and generosity leads us to the core of that ongoing battle between light and darkness that will be resolved in the Cross and Resurrection. Jesus asks us in these last Lenten weeks to walk on with him. He is dreaming of remaking the world -and not just of us sharing chocolate bunnies or lying on a Mediterranean beach.

+ Donal McKeown


On the fourth Sunday of Lent Bishop McKeown explains John 3:16, God so loved the world that He sent His only Son. How can we focus on developing a more missionary church.


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Statement by the Northern Bishops announcing that ...
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