Diocese of Derry


6 minutes reading time (1167 words)

Homily - Fifth Sunday of Easter - Bishop McKeown


Sunday, 2 May 2021

The theme of these Sundays after Easter has been how the young church should understand itself, after the Ascension of Jesus. We have heard the message about the Risen Jesus that the apostles were to preach. And we are now hearing reassuring words of Jesus to those who will preach about him. Last week Jesus was the Good Shepherd, looking after his flock and looking out for the lost ones. Today, Jesus assures that, if they remain attached to him, they will live with his risen life. What might we learn about the Church's mission from today's readings, as we move away from lockdowns and restrictions?

In our first reading, we see the energy and passion that St Paul brings to proclaiming the message about Jesus, even when some of the apostles were wary about this new convert who had previously been trying to kill them. There is always a temptation to think that nobody should be too enthusiastic about preaching the Gospel. Or that we alone have rights as to who uses the message about Jesus, so that we can control how it is preached. But the early Church in Jerusalem had to learn that God works in ways and in people that we cannot and should not control. As the early Church discovered, we have to realise that God can change people's lives, without us having to claim credit for it.The message of our faith is God's gift to each of us – but it is not our private possession. Insiders like us may want to control the Gospel. But Jesus wants us to know that he is in control. The Gospel serves Christ's agenda, not ours.

There are huge sections of our population who are hardly ever in any church. Many have not rejected Christianity. Most of them have never really heard what Jesus offers. The challenge for our parishes is not merely to get people back to Mass. The real mission is to get them back into church so that they will go out of this church with a heart that wants to share the hope and love that they know. Those who want to gather the elect and hide behind high protective walls to protect ourselves do not know the daring Jesus of the New Testament.

Secondly, there are two key words in our second reading that jump out at me. St John talks about us being children of the truth – and loving one another. Those are the key marks of Christ's disciples. As St Paul discovered, speaking the truth will often be unwelcome. There are those who have their own version of the truth and who don't want anyone to be speaking against it. Speaking the truth about Jesus is very unwelcome in many quarters today. The dominant culture says that there is nothing beyond this life and that we should just have fun without limits – because this is the best that life can get. In order words, nothing is good or bad, right or wrong. I have the right to determine everything because I am the author of my truth and nobody can tell me otherwise.

But the Resurrection of Jesus says that this physical world is not all that there is and that Jesus is the Lord. I know it can be very hard to look beyond the one-dimensional world of the five senses. But Jesus says that we can dare to believe in the gift of forgiveness and love from God and in the promise of eternal life with God. We are asked to keep Christ's commandments, even when they are tough to follow. We are asked to live the kind of life that Jesus wants. It is much easier to think that Jesus should accept whatever kind of life we want. It is not easy for our culture to accept that Jesus is God and that I am not.

Thirdly, Jesus is the vine. If we are to work in his service, then we have to be grafted into his life and allow ourselves to be pruned by God the Father. We all know Jesus uses the term 'being born again'. We will only bear fruit in Jesus' name if we allow ourselves to be pruned so his life to flow through our veins. The rich sacramental life of the Church unites us physically and spiritually to the Risen life of Jesus. The Eucharist is at the heart of how Jesus chooses to share in his powerful life of grace. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament gives us time to be amazed at how Christ wants to share his life with us as a free gift. It allows us to be amazed at his love for us so that our hearts can be moulded by his love. We are members of Christ's Church, His Body. Only if we let his life course thorough our hearts will we be able to serve him.

This weekend we celebrate another feast of St Joseph. That great saint is patron of the Universal Church. The one who looked after the Body of Christ in Nazareth still wants to look after that Body in today's Church. The quiet strong man of the Holy Family wants to build up the family of God – and be a model for many men in the Church. The spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary wants to be an inspiration to those who are setting out on married life and those who know that faithfulness and fatherliness are challenging, especially in our culture which has deconstructed so many of our identities. Joseph tells us that there are things that are true, even when they are difficult to accept. Joseph tells us that love is possible, even when it does not come cheap. Joseph knew how difficult it was to live his vocation – but he also knew that it was only by following the strange ways of God that he would bear fruit in plenty. His fruitfulness lay in his faithfulness.

In these days between the Resurrection and the Ascension, Jesus was teaching his apostles so that they could proclaim him when the Holy Spirit was given. Jesus continues to prepare us for making him known and loved. Today he reminds us that the world needs to hear the healing truth about God, that this truth is often unwelcome, but that his life will help us to be life-giving in his name. He prepares us – as we say at the end of the Mass – to God and proclaim the Gospel of the Lord. In the midst of so much conflict and sadness the world is waiting for Good News.

+ Donal McKeown


In this episode Bishop Donal focuses on the Church in Jerusalem in the Act's of the Apostles outlining: - the teaching of the early community; and - the struggles and challenges. 

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

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