Diocese of Derry


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Homily - 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Bishop McKeown


Sunday, 26 July 2020 

As you know, this year, we have been walking with Jesus in St Matthew's Gospel, as he reveals to his disciples what it means to be his follower. We heard his vision in the Sermon on the Mount, we saw his work of healing and preaching, then we listened to his instructions on how to proclaim his message – and Jesus has now come to the end of this series of parables, images of what things would be like when God's will is done on earth as it is in heaven. So, today's Gospel has its own message – but it's just one lesson in his much larger full training programme for disciples in every generation. What might today's disciples learn from this piece of his teaching? 

When faith is a burden or a merely a habit, it has lost its flavour. Without the love-fuelled readiness to give everything for Christ, it is not faith as Jesus proclaims it.

Firstly, faith is not merely an intellectual conviction that God exists or that Jesus's death on the Cross has changed everything. Faith involves magic moments of discovery, a treasure uncovered under the dirty clay of a nondescript field of our lives or one valuable pearl in a mountain of oyster shells. Faith is closer to the magic of being surprised by love than to being convinced. Of course, like any committed relationship, it involves both your heart and your head. When we are overwhelmed by the love of God for us, it becomes something that entrances us and gives us strength, even in the hard times. When faith is a burden or a merely a habit, it has lost its flavour. Without the love-fuelled readiness to give everything for Christ, it is not faith as Jesus proclaims it.

We are now at a critical time for our church. On the one hand, very large numbers – many of them not regular churchgoers - have been following our religious services online. But we know from both current attendance and medical advice, that it will be quite a while before people can safely gather in large numbers in churches. There were many people, for whom attendance in church was part of their weekly programme but who may not return to that regular pattern. This is a real challenge for parishes. How do we celebrate our sacramental unity in the Body of Christ without coming together as much? How do we proclaim the community dimension of faith in a culture where online church services may actually promote a more privatised faith, based on a consumerist, service-provider model? How do we be parishes that reach out to strangers in need if Mass is piped into the house and we do not have to rub shoulders with those who are not part of our family circle? If we have not discovered Christ as a hidden treasure or a pearl of great value, there will be a strong temptation to use faith where it suits me rather than giving my all. Faith is a call to follow Christ, not merely a membership card where I can expect Christ to follow my agenda. Limitation in church attendance means that the domestic church has to take on a greater part of handing on the rich treasure of faith.

Secondly, we often hear about the alleged opposition between our faith and science. In a scientific age – so the argument goes – you could not believe in the transcendent. In that environment, only the laws of the market have any logic. But faith is the missing piece of the puzzle that can suddenly make sense of everything else – life and death, love and loss, science and music, art and history. Many people are hungry for lack of the means by which to live. But many also seek a meaning for which to live. In the words of the first reading, wisdom comes from a wise heart and discerning judgement - not just from a full head or a successful career. Science can help us understand how things work and it can discern patterns in the laws of nature – though scientists will often disagree. But science can give no answer to the question about why we are here, about what is good and bad. Some people are inclined to espouse the secular faith of Stephen Hawkins and believe that human beings are ultimately "chemical scum on an average-sized planet, orbiting around a very average-sized star in the outer suburbs of one of a million galaxies."[1] In other words, life is meaningless and without value. But many other scientists see the beauty of the universe as so much more than chemical scum. Jesus invites us to marvel at the pearl of great price rather than just analyse its chemical components. The Gospel message is then an invitation to give everything for faith in a God who is love, the free gift of forgiveness and mercy in a harsh world and the audacious belief that I am not just chemical scum or an accident of evolution. A heart with a transcendent worldview can see God on the Cross and adore Christ in the Eucharist. Discover the treasure and the pearl of hope that inspire us to dream God's dream for the world and for our own personal life, here and hereafter.

I invite you with friends or family to talk about what value you place on your faith and what Jesus' parables about the pearl and the treasure say to you.

Thirdly, these parables draw us away from 'me' as the centre of my universe. For Jesus, the joy of faith is gifts, not part of my creation. Faith is not about me discovering God, but about an invitation to seek the God who is seeking to bless me. We do not choose Jesus. He chooses us. (John 15:16). In St John's Gospel, the public life of Jesus begins with Jesus asking two of John's followers, "What are you looking for?" (Jn 1:28). And on Easter Sunday, the unrecognised Jesus asks Mary Magdalene, "Whom are you looking for?" (Jn 20:15) Jesus asks us to begin our search within the hungers of our heart. Very often, it is in the apparently hard ground of disappointment, loss and apparent failure that Christ's seed of hope can bear the most fruit. Do not be afraid of searching for the truth that sets us free.

This week we journey on with Jesus who wants to share the divine dream with us. I invite you with friends or family to talk about what value you place on your faith and what Jesus' parables about the pearl and the treasure say to you. Seek to answer Jesus' questions about who and what you seek, deep down in the soil of your heart – and allow him to surprise you his best treasures. And pray that we as Church can discern how we will best celebrate and share that treasure that we hold in earthenware vessels. By doing that you can allow God's seed to bear rich fruit in the ordinary soil of our hearts.

+ Donal McKeown

[1] Cf reference in Timothy Radcliffe, Alive in God – A Christian Imagination, 2019, p 15

Today's readings can be found at Universalis Publishing. Click here to view.

Bishop McKeown explains 'Sunday's in Ordinary Time' 

In Episode 12 in the series 'Scripture Saturday', Bishop Donal explains the Sunday's in Ordinary Time and where they fit in the liturgical calender. Click the play button below to view. The full series can be viewed by clicking here.

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Contact Info

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

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