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Homily - 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Bishop McKeown

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Sunday, 11 July 2021 

Last week we saw Jesus facing rejection in his hometown. And he was amazed at their lack of faith. But despite that discouragement, he now sends his apostles out to the other local villages to preach. What can we learn from his instructions to the apostles as they set out on their mission?

Firstly, there is an urgency about the language - and Jesus is in charge. He summons them, he instructs them, he send them out in pairs and he gives them a series of do's and don'ts. There is nothing meek and mild about this task. The purpose of the church is not to proclaim itself, but to preach repentance and bring healing because there is an urgent need for that good news. Thus, our task is not to defend church or to make excuses for past mistakes or remind people of former achievements. Our only job is to make God's grace available for the people of today. The society in which we find ourselves is where Jesus instructs us to minister with urgency, however inadequate we may feel. That sort of faithfulness to the mission is the only way to have integrity. Our job is to obey Christ's commands and not merely to make Church popular or influential.

And there are many groups who need grace. Some are well able to articulate their wounds. But there are many other parts of society for whom there are few public voices. There are tens of thousands of people on this island who feel useless or unwanted because of poverty, relationship failures, imprisonment, addiction, homelessness, ill health or disabilities. Many feel alienated in a society whose dogma says that it would have been better and kinder if they had not been born. A church that sees only popular causes loses its prophetic voice. A church that goes out in Christ's name will see the least of Jesus' brothers and sisters when others see nobodies. Today's Gospel calls us to start that urgent mission in our day and in our locality. The only priority in Jesus' strategic plan was to start preaching to those who most needed good news and healing.

Secondly, Jesus tells the apostles to travel light, carrying only the bare necessities – just the clothes that they are wearing. They are to trust that God will provide. For apostles who were unsure of what they were to preach, this was further challenge to them. Down through the centuries, the Church has been renewed by people who took this instruction seriously. The Irish monks set out as missionaries to Britain and Europe. More recent Irish missionaries set out to all the other continents with little awareness of where they were going and how they would cope or how long they would survive. Many of them would not see the fruit of their labours. But later generations would be grateful for those who gave their everything, trusting that God would give the growth when their seeds bore fruit.

A church that is concerned with its own strength cannot be bearers of the ministry that Jesus gives the apostles. A church that is tempted to be showy or pamper itself is not bearing witness to Jesus. Those who first look after themselves are incapable of carrying the cross or having hearts for the little ones. Those who look down their noses at the unimportant ones will not bring the healing that Jesus wishes to offer.

Thirdly, Jesus knows that his apostles will face opposition – but he insists that they should not be discouraged when they are rejected. The prophet Amos knew this in his lifetime. We are not there to be popular but to speak the healing truth in love, even when it is unwelcome. St Paul tells us what that truth is. Writing to the church in Ephesus, St Paul tells us that we have been chosen before the world was made to know the freedom that comes from forgiveness. And Paul is clear that this is not just a nice personal word but rather part of a plan to bring all things together under Christ. And he tells us that we have been stamped with the Holy Spirit. That is not a childish teaching but a very adult vision of the world. The earth can be renewed. We are not stuck in a rat race. We are capable of great things. We can do much better than imitate what we are told that normal people do.

There is a version of a poem about that Gospel generosity, attributed to Mother Teresa, that goes as follows:

People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centred. Love them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Be good anyway.

Honesty and frankness will make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.

People need help but may attack you if you try to help them. Help them anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

The Irish Church will be renewed, not merely by a human strategy of altering structures or teachings in order to adapt to passing tastes. It will be renewed by rediscovering the self-giving missionary spirit that Jesus speaks about today. It will involve a sense of urgency in proclaiming Christ's mission to those who most need to hear it. We do that best when we journey in hope and not in self-confidence. All that we offer is grace, gift. Simplicity of life and poverty of spirit are essential elements of the missionary. Jesus sent his apostles out to be heroes in their day. He still calls his followers to be fools for his sake. A church without heroic levels of generosity cannot bear witness to the crazy generosity of God in Jesus.

+ Donal McKeown

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Diocesan Offices
St Eugene’s Cathedral
Francis Street, Derry
BT48 9AP | Tel: 028 7126 2302

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