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Homily - Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Bishop McKeown


Sunday, 12 February 2023

Jesus was known as Rabbi, the Teacher. He has come with a message to teach by his words and his actions. Thus, he presents a clear structured message in his public preaching. He has already proclaimed that the kingdom of God is near at hand, sin and its effects can be defeated by grace. The Beatitudes were examples of how simple his vision for the redeemed human race was. Today, he emphasises that the attitudes of the Kingdom are rooted in the heart, and not merely protected by laws.

Firstly, it is easy for us to move back and forward between keeping laws and then emphasising how important love is – as if they were competing ways of living rightly. Jesus is clear that God's Kingdom will not remove objective right and wrong. He simply wants to move far beyond what the scribes and Pharisees preached as goodness - external compliance with rules and regulations. Not killing is no great virtue if your heart is full of hatred or resentment. Not committing adultery is no great virtue if your heart is plagued with destructive daydreaming. Our current Western society portrays itself as moving forward beyond old-fashioned rules and taboos and embracing a world that will be blessed with free choice in everything. Words mean what I want them to mean. But Jesus is clear that you cannot separate the body from the heart – and that external rules are meant, not to limit us but to support us to make good and virtuous decisions. We are physical beings. Thus, what we do with our bodies affects who we are. Heartless obedience to loveless rules is not what God calls us to. Slavish obedience to our thirsts is closer to the devil than to the Kingdom of heaven.

Secondly, we might ask how this fits in with Jesus' teaching. Elsewhere in the Gospel, Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is. He simply says what he is saying in today's Gospel – that loving God and loving our neighbour are two sides of the one coin. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. In the words of Isaiah, he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. Our love is a response to that divine love. Love of neighbour is not just being kind to those who make our life easy. It means carrying others in their weakness and grief. It is a bare minimum to not break the commandments. But Jesus calls us to a much higher level of graced human greatness. He asks us to love one another as he has loved us. He invites us to allow God's Spirit to dwell within us so that we can build the Kingdom. Jesus has high expectations of us. Faith in Jesus is not something childish. God calls us to human greatness, through grace. And he tells us that it is possible, not a silly dream.

The Welcome, the Penitentail Rite, the Good News, the Creed and the Breaking of Bread

Thirdly, our weekly liturgy models these steps in growing as a disciple of Jesus. At the beginning of Mass we are welcomed – for we are called together by the Lord to celebrate and be strengthened. The Penitential Rite is not a mater of feeling bad about being an awful sinner. But it invites us to look into our heart to see where we might need to be freed from lurking resentment or hardness of heart, secret passions or addictions. This is about liberation, not about a guilt trip. Then, once we have acknowledged the gap between what we are and what holiness God calls us to espouse, we hear the Good News of salvation proclaimed in the Word. We renew our faith in that hope-filled narrative in the Creed. Then we approach the altar where we do what Jesus did at the Last Supper and what he asks us to do solemnly – to take, give thanks, break and distribute in memory him. And St Paul tells us when we eat this bread and drink this cup, we show forth Christ's powerful death until he comes again in glory. 

The Mass is not an event that we watch someone else doing while we say our prayers. Nor is it a mystery, too much above us so that we should keep a distance. It is a mystery into which we are invited to enter and participate, however unworthy we might be. Attendance at Sunday Mass is not an obligation that is meant to burden us. Participation at Mass in church – and not merely on the webcam – is a gift that we are called to receive with gratitude. It is not religious entertainment where we might or might not like the church or the celebrant – and prefer some other form of entertainment. If we want to take seriously the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, if we want to allow God's grace to transform us, then regular prayerful participation in the Mass is an essential part of what Jesus calls us to. If our hearts are trapped in unresolved passions, just keeping the commandments is what the scribes and Pharisees taught and what Jesus condemns in today's Gospel. Jesus tells us what we can become – and offers the divine life necessary to enable us to become saints.

St Paul calls Jesus' teaching the 'hidden wisdom of God'. It is revealed by God, not merely something that human wisdom can attain. It is a profound form of maturity, not the shallow and ever-changing jingle-jangle message of what St Paul calls 'the masters of this age.' You can't build much on the basis of trite slogans like'let's feel good.' We gather each week at the foot of the Rabbi, the Teacher. He wants us to be fed and blessed. We have to chose whether we take him and his full invitation seriously – or just the bits that suit us.

+ Donal McKeown

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