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Homily - Mass for deceased children and young people - Bishop McKeown


Sunday, 8 November

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time 

There is the famous country and western song - sometimes associated with those who are struggling with addictions - which contains the simple refrain "Yesterday's done, and tomorrow may never be mine. Lord, for my sake, help me to take, one day at a time". There is a wisdom in that – because we can only live here and now, where we are. And our scripture readings today focus on how we find a deep wisdom which gives people the strength to live one day at a time. Standing in Jerusalem and aware that his own death will come shortly, Jesus tells the parable of 10 bridesmaids, half of whom were wise and half who were foolish. What does that parable say to us this November as we remember our dead?

Firstly, some might think that talk of death is morbid and unnecessary. But in this parable, Jesus says that it is wise to accept that life can end at any moment. Many families know the horror of sudden death. Accepting the reality of death – at whatever age – is not a distraction from living life to the full. When we are not afraid to talk about death, we are saying that life is precious and of value. Faith in God insists that every human life is precious. It tells us that our actions are worthwhile and that what we do here is of eternal beauty and value. If our culture only offers us a means by which to live but not a meaning for which to live[1], then it is no surprise that many will think their life is little more than a sad joke. We have a lot of our young people who are spiritually broken. Addiction and violence have scarred the hearts of many of them. We have lost too many who decided that life was not worth living and did not realise just how much pain their death would cause. Furthermore, a self-indulgent culture has made lockdown even more difficult to cope with. We can blame the individuals for gathering to party, but we need also to recognise the culture which tells young people that, unless you are having fun, life has little value. There is a huge population that needs to know love, forgiveness, healing and God's grace. And they need to know that there is room for them in our parishes. They want to believe that life is more than having a party.

Secondly, Jesus' teaching about mercy and forgiveness is an invitation to maturity. He knows from his own experience that life is difficult for people in every generation. Christianity is sometimes criticised for asking too much from people. I agree that is a harsh brand of Christianity that loves to condemn others and never be self-critical. Such a message does not reflect the Jesus of the Gospel who is our model and inspiration. But there is no basis for a form of Christianity which uncritically absorbs the message that life should be easy and that nobody should be pushed beyond their comfort zone. Courage and strength of character are not nourished by expecting little from ourselves. Challenging people to be generous and heroic says that we are capable of great things. When Jesus calls his listeners to repent, he is not trying to dump guilt upon them. He is freeing them from the prison of low expectations and from a sense that nothing can or will change. Jesus himself spoke about dying to oneself, about taking up the Cross if we want to follow him. Talk of death and the afterlife give a context for believing that here is not as good as it gets.

Thirdly, St Paul talks about those who have 'died in Christ'. Jesus died and rose again. Life is stronger than death. God's grace is stronger than the sin that nailed Jesus to the Cross. Those who have died in Jesus will share his risen life. Thus, the call to believe in Jesus is not some childish promise. It is a call to accept that Jesus is the one who offers eternal life to the people who believe in him. Eternal life is not offered to us just because we supported a particular sports team or were a good laugh in life. Nor is eternal life merely a reward earned by those who kept the laws. That was the belief which Jesus freed us from by dying on the Cross. If keeping laws was enough, Jesus wasted his time. Christian faith calls us to walk in the footsteps of, and in friendship with the Son of God who walked among us. Faith means knowing that eternal life is a free gift, offered out of love. But we will enjoy eternal life only if we have desired it. Thus, our funerals in church are not merely celebrations of someone's life. They are events where people of faith gather to commend the deceased to the mercy of God.

Today we remember those young people who have died. There are many of them who have been torn away from us through illness, accident, violence, addiction or at their own hands. Those deaths have often left pain, loneliness and often anger. Many parents need to forgive those who have gone and to forgive others – or who need to forgive themselves for words said or left unsaid. This is a time to recognise those feelings – but not to be too hard on ourselves or on others. Like Jesus on the Cross, we often have to echo Jesus' words, Father, forgive them for they know now what they do. Like Mary at the foot of the Cross, we often have to stand not knowing how to make sense of life but trusting that, in God, all has meaning and that the Devil will not have the last laugh.

We pray for those who have died, entrusting them to God's mercy. In our uncertainty, we ask for the wisdom to live today well, knowing that eternity will make sense of everything. We ask for the grace to keep our lamps lit and not afraid of the Lord when he comes. In our doubt, we pray for the faith to entrust everything and everyone to the arms of Jesus who carries our cross with us. We commit ourselves to build parish communities where lost and disorientated young people can find inspiration and a welcome. And we commend our deceased young people to the Jesus who died that we might be healed. As we remember them by name, we pray that their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed will rest in peace.

+ Bishop Donal McKeown

[1] Cf Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning,

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