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Homily - 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Bishop McKeown

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Sunday, 7 August 2022 

The Gospel readings each Sunday may come across to us as separate unconnected incidents on which we can reflect. But when you get a sense of the sequence of the readings, it then becomes possible to discover themes running through what is one story centred around one theme. On these recent Sundays, Jesus has been asking his followers to move beyond self-reliance. He did that through teaching them the Our Father. Last week, he warned against excessive attachment to property. Today he speaks about even our life not being our own. What might we learn?

Firstly, in the absence of any coherent understanding of human life and death, our modern culture is torn in two directions. We are told that we can control nearly everything. We can see into space and communicate around the world. We can choose how we want to identify – and that can change. We are told we have the right to act as if every choice in life is good, because it is my right to choose. We get the message that suffering is outrageous and that we should be entitled to live an easy life. And on the other hand, so many people teeter on the end of the abyss of despair, unable to give sense to their lives and angry when the promised bliss does not materialise. We keep discovering that we are anything but masters of the universe.

... faith in Jesus is not merely calling us to believe that God exists, and we hope he backs our plans. Faith tells us that God exists and that he has a dream for each of us, even when we cannot see it.

Jesus proposes a much more realistic and positive vision of what it means to be human. He tells us that our lives are fragile and yet of infinite value. We are created for eternal glory and our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Yet, we don't have to try to convince ourselves that we are masters of the universe. Indeed, scientific discoveries have not so much made us feel great as made us realise how insignificant we are in the vastness of the creation, if we do not have some source of value beyond this short life. Thus, faith in Jesus is not merely calling us to believe that God exists, and we hope he backs our plans. Faith tells us that God exists and that he has a dream for each of us, even when we cannot see it. Thus, the greatest antidote to much mental anguish is not merely a pill or more stuff. Rather it is the belief that we are loved for all eternity, forgivable for all our mistakes and precious, no matter how scarred our lives may seem to us. Are you prepared to believe that?

Secondly, this belief in God is meant to offer us freedom, not to imprison us or restrict our capacity for joy. Our society sells us the idea that the more choices we have, the happier we will be. The market demands that choice is the most important feature of our lives. But, for many people, the multiplicity of choices is bewildering – and so many people do not have the financial wherewithal to make many choices. Jesus tells us that real freedom is exercising the choice to do the right thing. Something is not right, just because I choose to do it.

The death of Jesus is a prime example where he was completely unfree on Calvary. And yet he chose to offer his life to the Father. Victimhood robs us of our freedom. It paralyses us. It says that somebody else is to blame for my choices. Jesus chose to accept his vocation. We are really free only when we take the choices that are at our disposal, even if the options available to us are very limited. Thus, morality is not merely keeping the laws – for the Pharisees were very good at that. Freedom in Christ means seeking to do the right thing in every situation, however imperfect the circumstances may be. That means learning to choose to do the right thing, because it is the right thing to do and not merely because it suits me at the time. Growing in freedom to make good choices is a life-long journey. Believing in good and God is the source of true freedom.

Thirdly, our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews quotes an example of freedom in Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. He had a crazy trust in God. That meant leaving his homeland and allowing himself to be led somewhere else. It meant believing that, despite all sorts of good reasons, he and his wife would have a child. The invitation to follow Jesus is always an invitation to leave the space where we think we are at home and comfortable – and to journey beyond. Faith calls us to believe in our capacity for the infinite. Faith broadens our horizons; it dares us to believe in the infinite and the eternal. It creates an environment where we hear the invitation to believe in forgiveness, in the presence of grace, in the possibility of love and faithfulness. It bursts the bubble of a self-contained world and helps us breath the air of eternity. The sacraments and the scriptures are precious places where we can glimpse what lies beyond the high walls and the low ceiling that limits our dreams. When we have those insights into God's graced presence among us, we can journey in trust that God is walking with us and ahead of us, opening new doors and new windows. Faith wants to free us from narrow earth-bound horizons which crush the human spirit. Those who dare to have that vision are being prepared for eternity.

In the Mass, we celebrate that message of today's readings. We commit ourselves to journeying in hope, we seek to imitate the ability of Jesus to choose, even on Calvary. And we walk from here with trust that we are not alone, randomly choosing in the dark. The synodal process is not about giving space for loud voices. It is where prayerful people will be attuned to the voice of God's Holy Spirit and leaving behind any alluring false security of what suits us. The message of Divine Mercy is "My Jesus, I trust in you". That is at the heart of all faith in Christ.

+ Donal McKeown


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

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