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Homily - 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Bishop McKeown

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Sunday, 31 July 2022 

There is much discussion in the Church about how we reach age groups who are no longer heavily involved in parish. Many of the synodal conversations focussed on how we should update church teachings and practices so as to be more attractive and contemporary for our society. Today's readings throw a big bucket of cold water on any notion that Jesus' teaching should be diluted in the interests of courting popularity. What might we learn?

Firstly, the person who approaches Jesus in the Gospel wants to get Christ involved in his personal issues – and we all know how difficult wills can be. It is a perfectly sensible question to ask Jesus. But Chris's response is that there are much more important things than possessions. That is not a comfortable message for society in any generation. Achievement, status and possessions can be very much tied up with our self-image. The commercial culture tells you that life is too short to say 'no' – and that you are worth it. But Jesus teaches that all that we possess is of merely passing importance – and that greed does not make your life secure, even when you have more than you need.

Faith does not just mean believing that there is a God up in heaven and trying to create a good impression of ourselves before that God so that we can get on well here. As we saw last week in the 'Our Father', faith means believing that we are asked to see everything in the light of eternity. That does not mean forgetting about the important things of earth. But it does mean living in such a way as to use the good things of this world so as to prepare ourselves for heaven. That means living in a sustainable way that does not create an overheated earth for the next generations. It involves building a society of justice and truth. It means living here as a preparation for the hereafter. That is not a welcome message in a culture where self-indulgence is encouraged. But Jesus insists on speaking that strong message. He is not interested in watering it down. Neither should we be.

Secondly, Jesus says elsewhere in the Gospel that the truth will set you free. He speaks the uncomfortable truth – and expects his followers not to be afraid of the truth. He himself says that he is the way, the truth and the life. But St Paul has a beautiful phrase about truth. He says that we should speak the truth in love. That means speaking in a way that helps others to grow and not merely venting our anger at those whom we love to condemn. Jesus wants to liberate people from false illusions and shallow solutions. Pope Francis wrote a book recently entitled "Let us dream". He invites us to dream God's dream for the world and not merely to compete in a rat race over trinkets that do not last. Today's Gospel passage is part of that divine vision for who we are and what we can become. Saints are models of those who took that divine extravagance seriously. Jesus invites us to take his truth seriously – even when others laugh at it and at us. Indeed there is a widespread political agenda that would want to remove anything of God's vision from education and replace it with a new intolerant secular ideology and vision of sexuality that suit the strong. Those who want to hand on a God-centred worldview to their children will face an uphill battle. But that is the challenge for those who want to speak the truth in love and the truth about love.

Weekly Mass is not merely about fulfilling your duty and then going away unchanged. Conversion happens only in the context of a community that prays together and grows in faith together – and inspires young people to take Jesus seriously.

Thirdly, in our second reading, St Paul uses a very strong image. If you want to be a follower of Jesus, you have to die to part of yourself. He says that you have to kill everything that belongs only to earthly life. He specifically names "impurity, guilty passions, evil desires and especially greed, which is the same thing as worshipping a false god." We have to strip ourselves off our old behaviour. That is a tall order. But it is the only way that we can experience a share in Christ's resurrection. There is no such thing as cheap grace, no Jesus-lite version of the Gospel.

But that is part of God's dream for the world. And he invites those of us who love him to gather each week to hear the scriptures together and to be nourished by Holy Communion. Weekly Mass is not merely about fulfilling your duty and then going away unchanged. Conversion happens only in the context of a community that prays together and grows in faith together – and inspires young people to take Jesus seriously.

As we can see from today's Gospel Jesus takes every opportunity to present his challenging message to those who he meets. The Church will be renewed, not merely by tinkering with structures or suggesting that Christ's teaching would be too much for modern people. Renewal will come when we die to part of ourselves – painful though that may be – and allow ourselves to be driven by the love of God and not by the pressures of the marketplace. The man in the crowd asked Jesus' help in a domestic dispute – and he got an answer that he did not expect. This week, when you pray, don't just ask for things – but ask for an open heart to hear what Jesus wants you to do. And when someone wants to talk about Jesus, ask them this question – if you and Jesus were going out for a meal, what would you have in common?

As one writer said many years ago, it is always better to be unhappy with the right questions than happy with the wrong answers. Don't be afraid of Jesus and his answers.

+ Donal McKeown

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Francis Street, Derry
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