St Eugene’s Cathedral
Francis Street, Derry
BT48 9AP | Tel: 028 7126 2302
Sunday, 29 January. Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Firstly, like everything Jesus says and does, these Beatitudes are meant shake his listeners then and now. We have normalised the rule of sin and its destructive power and we can't imagine anything else. These sayings of Jesus about who is blessed were remembered by the early church, not because they were timid and bland - but because everything would have to change if God was to be king on the earth. Conversion means seeing the world through God's eyes, not expecting God to repent and see things as we would want them to be. Michael, you are being ordained for ministry when you will proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near. Without a constant experience of personal conversion, your ministry could be reduced to that of a religious service provider. Jesus expects much better than that from his Church.
That is why the synodal journey for the church is not about adapting ourselves to the current cultural preoccupations of our society. Synodality is about seeing where we have to repent of worldly ideas and allowing God to reign in his Church and in our hearts. Jesus wants to save us from ourselves and our low expectations. We are not capable of being our own saviours. Only the Cross can offer that salvation. That is where every synodal conversation begins and ends. That is why we ask the Holy Spirit to unsettle us so that we can glimpsewhat someone has called 'the upside down Kingdom of God'. We are reborn as members of God's kingdom. Never reduce yourself to being a proponent of our own limited expectations.
Secondly, in building the Kingdom, St Paul's letter to the Corinthians celebrates the power of weakness. For him, any assumption of human pride or power gets in the road of the foolishness of the Cross. It may help to understand what was happening to Paul when he first arrived in Corinth. He had struggled to make any inroads on his mission in Greece. When he had spoken in Athens about Christ's resurrection, he was laughed at. And then he came to Corinth, a city of two harbours and full of vice. What possible success could he have here, having been rejected by the nice intelligent people in sophisticated Athens? And yet Paul was taken aback by how well the rough Corinthians took to the Good News about Jesus and his Cross. In this letter he is writing to Corinth where he has heard that some people are proposing that they are more important in the Christian community and he states clearly it was to shame the wise that God chose what is foolish by human reckoning, and to shame what is strong that he chose what is weak by human reckoning; those whom the world thinks common and contemptible are the ones that God has chosen – those who are nothing at all to show up those who are everything. That says a lot about how we live as church. There is always the temptation to be proud of our own faith and look down on others whose life experience may have been very different from ours. But Jesus was counted among the sinners – he lived, ate and died among them. Michael, avoid the temptation to feel superior to anyone. Never support groups who think they are a cut above the rest.
Thirdly, Jesus is not merely issuing a set of guidelines about how we should live. He is also stating that it is possible to live with these values. With grace, our human nature can do great things. We see that in the lives of the saints. Our cultural role models very often imply that those who are poor in spirit, gentle, merciful and peacemakers are losers, they are missing out on all that life has to offer. Jesus encourages those who are looked down on to believe that they are blessed, for – in the long run - they will be shown to have been wise. Jesus himself was victorious over sin and death in his Resurrection. Those who follow the Beatitudes will be on the winning side. They will not only be blessed but be a blessing on their communities. We all know people who inspire us because of their leadership and courage. In a frightened world, where anger is often seen as a virtue, we are blessed by those who sow seeds of hope and reconciliation. As church, our task is never to look down on those outside or blame them for not being active in their parish communities. The Beatitudes challenge us to show that our relationship with Jesus fills us with grace to be outrageously gentle, poor in spirit, merciful and peacemakers and so point to who Jesus is and to what we can all become in him. Michael, live your life generously. Give people a glimpse of what the Kingdom of God is like. Today, you don't merely receive a sacrament. You become a sacrament.
This country has suffered much over the centuries with conflict, oppression, poverty and even famine. In 2023 we face division, anger and uncertainty about the future. That sort of message is frightening for so many young people, so many of whom are very anxious. The church and our society will be renewed when Christ's followers are driven to look outwards with peaceful hearts that are formed by the Beatitudes. Be a man of prayer, letting Christ form your heart in silence. In your own weakness, bring good news to neighbours and strangers. Show how God's grace has changed your life. The beatitudes challenged Jesus' followers to believe in his Kingdom. He challenges us today to let grace flow in our time and place in Jesus' battle against sin and its power. That will not be easy in an age that says we ought to pamper ourselves. With Peter and Andrew, James and John, you are asked whether you prepared to take Jesus seriously, wherever it may lead and whatever it may cost you.
+ Donal McKeown
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