Bishop Donal's Homily - World Meeting of Families Mass - St Mary's School, Limavady

Bishop Donal's Homily - World Meeting of Families Mass - St Mary's School, Limavady

When I was invited to be with you this morning, I was glad to be asked along – but I was struck by how the invite was phrased "Our parish community and school community will join together on May 25th at 10am Mass for a celebration of the World Meeting of Families before the end of school term." The word 'community' appears twice – and the overlap between parish and school were taken for granted. And that says a lot about how you see yourselves as a school. In a culture where there is so much emphasis on subject content and grades, you have always known – in the almost 60 years of your history – that education is not just about passing on information. It is about the formation of young people to enable them to be capable of transformation. It is by hearts transformed by grace that the face of the earth will be renewed.

The World Meeting of Families is a huge international event. Some will say that it is a burden on little Ireland. It will certainly take a lot of work to welcome the world to Dublin for almost a week in August. But it will actually have been little more than a holy Ed Sheerin concert or Rolling Stones gig, if all it leaves behind is some photographs, a few good memories and an empty Phoenix Park. Jesus did not come to a popular entertainer who could tell great stories and work miracles. He came to change the world by presenting a new and challenging view of who we are and what we can become. If we in Ireland cannot use the week in August to inspire us, then we will have missed the point. It will – to quote Shakespeare's Hamlet – been 'full of sound and fury/signifying nothing'. [1]

So how would we hope that the WMOF will be a blessing on Ireland and on how the Irish Church serves the common good?

I remember being very struck by a lady from England who gave me a strange statistic – the average 16 year old in GB is more likely to have an iPhone at home than a dad. We live in an environment where many doubt the possibility of love and faithfulness. Very many of our public role models seem unable to maintain long term faithful relationships. Throwaway relationships end up producing what one recent report called 'an epidemic of loneliness.'[2] In a culture that doesn't offer anything much deeper than 'obey your thirst' or 'let's feel good', a lifelong commitment can seems a loss rather than a gain. In Ireland and Britain the average age at first marriage is about 32[3]. The message can go out that you ought to have fun before you settle down. And by implication, settling down is a loss. The Gospel message is very different. It says that we mature, not by avoiding responsibility, but by accepting it. We develop by taking on serious relationships, not by playing at them. We grow up by moving from dependence to independence to interdependence, not by treating life as a joke. It is no surprise that a relationship-light culture is leading to high levels of loneliness and mental distress. Can we speak Good News into that culture and we help our young people to dream of something better than semi-detached relationships in a detached house?

Secondly, we have another coulter-cultural message to promote. The New Testament uses two very strong images regarding the human body. It says that, in the Church, we are one Body with Christ as the Head. And St Paul also teaches that our bodies are Temples of the Holy Spirit, to be raised up on the Last Day. That seems strange to a culture that tells us that the body is something I possess; It should be used as a useful commodity, especially if it is attractive or fit. But Christ tells us that my body is part of who I am, not just something that I have. What I do in my private life is not unconnected with who I am in the public sphere. The Gospel invites us to learn self-discipline so that I can use my body in the service of human dignity. If I am not becoming master of my instincts, then my instincts will be master of me. That message will be unwelcome in many quarters. But when the Church has been true to Christ has revealed, then it will be criticised.But Jesus was radical in what he invited people to be. And he still expects his Church to be radical in inviting people to find beauty in heroism and not in self-indulgence. The 'me' culture is promoting too many people who are dying for want of a reason for living. Can we love people into believing in the possibility of self-giving love as Jesus modelled it? If we can learn to do that graciously and firmly, then the WMOF can be a blessing on us.

Thirdly, Pope Francis has been criticised for being unclear about some moral teachings in the Church. But I believe that is trying to keep two things in balance. On the one hand, there is no doubt that Jesus calls all his followers to greatness. We are called to be nothing less than saints, wherever we are in life. The loving acceptance of the Cross by Jesus had nothing half-hearted in it. But he also sought to meet people where they were, sometimes through no fault of their own. He met the tax collectors and the Samaritan woman, the social outcasts and the foreigners. He did not tell them that they were fine as they were. But he did not snarl at them for where they had ended up. He said he would go out in search of the little lost lamb, even if it did not want to be saved or brought back to the flock. He did not try to bark people back into line. He simply told them that they could be forgiven for the mistakes that they had made and could start dreaming of living differently. They were not prisoners of their past, of what they had done or of what had happened ot them. The only people whom Jesus consistently condemned were those who thought they were perfect and that they could look down their noses at others. Can the WMOF help us to call people to greatness, starting from where they are and not just from where we would want them to be? Can we model the Good Shepherd as we go out to those who need encouragement and not merely condemnation? Those who have the smell of the sheep are not welcome in some quarters. Can the WMOF help us to not be afraid of speaking the truth in love in imitation of the Jesus we meet in the Gospel?

The closing Mass on August 26th will be the largest single event in Ireland, perhaps since the last Papal visit. It will not just be an opportunity to have a good day out. It will be an event where we can proclaim to the world that God has a dream for what sort of world we could create if we took the Commandments seriously. It will not be an event for old Catholic Ireland to make itself heard. It will be a chance for the young parents of the future to say that they believe in God's dream for this country and for this world. Changes in borders or changes in laws will not make a new Ireland. Changed hearts alone can do that. Thank you for all that you do in this parish to build hope for our young people. God, and Mary your patron bless the work.

+Donal McKeown

St Mary's School, Limavady

May 25th 2018


[1] Act v, Scene v [2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-44216806 [3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_age_at_first_marriage

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