Diocese of Derry


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Homily - Corpus Christi - Bishop McKeown


Sunday, 6 June 2021 

Some people see the liturgical year of the church as a rich, if bewildering series of constantly changing emphases and colours. But many don't see the story that the cycle of church seasons presents. Thus, today's feast is not just a nice freestanding occasion in the early summer after First Holy Communions. Today celebrates a core element of the faith that we profess each Sunday. The key events of Jesus' death, Resurrection, Ascension and sending of the Holy Spirit have made grace and mercy possible. The sacrament of the Eucharist is at the heart of how that grace is made accessible. What might we learn from today's feast?

Firstly, one word jumps out at me from the three readings today. That word is 'covenant'. God made a binding agreement with the Israelites through the blood of bullocks at Mount Sinai. Jesus seals a new covenant, open to the whole human race, by his blood on Calvary. At the Last Supper, he leaves his disciples a sacrament of that covenant. The Mass is where we celebrate that gift of God's faithfulness to those who desire to be faithful to him. Receiving the Eucharist is not merely accessing free spiritual energy. Just as the Israelites in the first reading had to agree to the divine offer, so reception of the Eucharist is a divine invitation to be a party to that solemn Covenant. We too are invited to say each time with God's people in every generation 'We will observe all that the Lord has decreed; we will obey'.

Thus, the structure of the Mass is an action where we are prepared to renew our commitment to the God who is committed to us. We hear the divine call in the scriptures. We renew our faith. we do what Jesus asks us to do in memory of him at the Last Supper. The Mass is an action where we voluntarily incorporate ourselves into the Body of Christ, accepting God's offer of a covenant with us. Thus, Mass is more than merely receiving Holy Communion or viewing a "nice Mass" via social media. The Sunday Eucharist is an invitation to be there sacramentally at the foot of the Cross and to commit ourselves together to the God who is committed to us.

Secondly, when Jesus talked about his body and blood, the disciples must have been very confused. People had earlier walked away when Jesus had used that 'intolerable language'. Jesus was killed because he spoke the truth about God. The truth about Jesus is uncomfortable for every generation. There is always the temptation to think Jesus' teaching should be made palatable as times change. But the failings of Church in every generation have been caused when the unpalatable prophetic voice was frightened or silenced. The uncomfortable truth has been compromised when the interests of the strong were canonised and the weak made into scapegoats. Every society – religious or otherwise – has been tempted to do that. Great saints have so often appeared to champion the cause of those on the fringes. The Eucharistic people has been at its best when the broken body of Christ inspired outreach to those who were most broken. When the sacrament of Calvary has been over sanitized, we have been less interested in those who bleed today. The uncomfortable circumstances of the new covenant in Christ's blood challenge us to accept God's uncomfortable truth. Jesus' death on Calvary marked the triumph of the weak and mocked the arrogance of those who thought they were strong.

Thirdly, in a very noisy world, there is a renewed discovery of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. In silence we are invited to be amazed at the love of God revealed in Jesus and at his solidarity with all of us in our sin and failures. But Adoration brings us to the foot of the Cross, and not to a royal court. Adoration is an invitation to fine tune our spiritual senses so that we can be amazed at God's truth, mercy and love. It is where we can continue to gaze at the Christ who looks loving at each of us. That can be a wonderful place and at the same time an uncomfortable experience. In Adoration, we are called to attune our souls to God's mysterious ways. Often, we are distracted. But Jesus invites us to acknowledge what those distractions say about who we are and where we are. Just as Jesus met Peter and Thomas after the Resurrection in the messiness of their betrayal and doubt, so Jesus meets each of us in our distractions and in our temptations to seek happiness elsewhere. It is precisely by being aware of our insatiable distractions that we can put the unpredictable leadings of Christ in the driving seat. Discernment and spiritual direction are about letting God meet us in our individual experience of life. Reluctance to do that can distance us from intimacy with God, others and ourselves. Real Adoration is never an attempt to escape from life's experiences or the actions of a dutiful servant. It is always a maturing invitation to encounter the Jesus of the new covenant in the wounds that each of us bears. We are invited to bring our wounds to his. It is precisely in the disordered parts of our lives that we most need Jesus. In the intimate silence of Adoration we are invited to meet the saviour who – as someone said – comes to us disguised as our life. It is where we most need mercy and love that God wants to come to us with his healing mercy in the Sacrament of Calvary. That is why we can offer Christ's consolation to those who are suffering. The greatest grace is often not an end to the suffering but the growth that comes from being loved by God and others in the midst of the suffering. As we sing on Good Friday, Behold the Wood of the cross on which hung the saviour of the world. Come let us worship.

Today we celebrate one key element in the rich kaleidoscope that is the Christian faith. The Eucharist is the place where we join the saints and angels in their unending hymn of praise to God. It is the place where we join in the People of the new covenant. It is the place where we gather as sinners to be loved and forgiven - and where we are sent out to announce the Gospel of the Lord's mercy that has amazed us. It is the place where the staggering generosity of God meets the bland dreams of consumerist culture. In the celebration of the Eucharist, we are challenged to accept the many uncomfortable truths of God, especially for those who are hurting most, those who feel harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd. Here we adore Christ who is the high priest of all blessings. Come let us worship.

+ 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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