Diocese of Derry


6 minutes reading time (1167 words)

Homily - Sixth Sunday of Easter - Bishop McKeown


Sunday, 9 May 2021 

We are now just two weeks away from Pentecost. The Liturgy has invited us to meet the mystery of the Risen Christ. Then we were called to rediscover ourselves as Church – the flock under the Good Shepherd and the branches in the Vine. Today, Jesus speaks of the divine life that pulses though the branches of the Church, namely love. Without that divine love, the Church will be without fruit. What might we learn on our Easter journey?

Firstly, Jesus refused to be put into the simple categories of his time – and he still resists the temptation to control him and his message. On the one hand, he spoke a tough language of taking up the Cross, dying to self and being prepared to pluck out our eye if it caused us to sin. That is part of the divine message that people have always struggled with. But it has inspired enormous generosity and heroism. But, on its own, it can become harshness. Jesus had no time for the rigorism of the Pharisees, for God is always bigger than our categories. The Cross is always gilded with another message, the reality of God's unfathomable love which sent Jesus. That love – about which Jesus speaks today – has inspired great saints and the message of divine mercy. But we are also tempted to see this one wing and excuse any sort of behaviour as if everything were fine as long as we can set it aside in the box that I have labelled 'love'. Good theology has always sought to work with the categories of 'and/and' rather than 'either/or'. God is always more complex what we might like Him to be. Jesus wants to broaden our horizons, not thank us for narrowing his vision. "I have heard you, Jesus, thank you – but I know better" has always been a tempting approach to faith. Those who diminish some Christian teachings as historically conditioned easily forget that their own opinions can be influenced more by popular consumerist values than by the unpopular message of the Cross. When we think we know both the most important questions and the right answers, we end up sacrificing Christ's righteousness on the altar of our self-righteousness. That has been a constant temptation through our faith history.

Secondly, today challenges us as Church to understand the love of God. In Jesus we see that love is self-giving, not self-serving. The "civilisation of love" that Pope John Paul spoke of is about mainlining love in a fragmenting society, not privatising it in the face of loneliness. Sin and selfishness can drive us to a position where we think that love and tenderness are unprofessional, sentimental, inefficient, soft and fragile[1]. But the love of God that Jesus and St John talk about is strong and effective, not silly and effete. As today's psalm tells us, God has shown his justice to the nations. It was on the Cross that the love of God was revealed and not merely in blessing children. Pope John Paul II was clear that "the charity of works ensures an unmistakeable efficacy to the charity of words."[2] Jesus was concerned about loving the people that he met. In him they encountered the face of the Father's mercy. Thus, the big challenge for the Church in every period is to proclaim the tender love of God for the individual and for the world - and then to show how it is possible for us all to be brothers and sisters. Any form of Christianity that rejoices when our enemies are smashed is moving towards just another variety of the spiritual nationalism that Jesus condemned. Only love can completely transform the human person.[3] Without that love of God in the branches of the vine, we will produce only bad fruit. The full truth of Jesus is uncomfortable for everybody and not just for those that any of us would like to condemn.

Thirdly, Jesus tells the apostles that he calls them friends, not servants. He has chosen them – and us to be his partners in bringing good news and healing. The current talk about synodality is always centred on letting God lead us to discover his agenda and his strategy in the circumstances of our world. The emphasis on the Holy Spirit in the early Church calls us to believe that God still leads his Church – if only we are open to being led. The divine vision is to reconcile all things in Christ. That involved the apparent failure of Calvary. Synodality is not about discovering how to achieve our short-term and often short-sighted goals, but how to allow God to use us so that we may serve the mission of bearing fruit that will last. Only divine love will make society more humane, more worthy of the human person.[4] We live in a time of much change. There is much talk of redrawing political borders. Followers of Jesus are not concerned about land borders but in the battleline in the human heart. Any new or existing political units will fail to promote human dignity if they are not imbued with the costly virtues of solidarity, generosity and charity. Only these can promote integral human development. Synodality is only a tool to discern how the love of God can be loved and proclaimed with integrity in our day. Jesus was able to proclaim a global vision for a resurrected humanity – and to put it into effect in his body. The only issue that Christ is interested in today is creating a Church that is salt to the earth and light to the world. Nothing less than that will serve the divine dream that we celebrate and serve in the Eucharist.

We are moving towards the Ascension and Pentecost. Jesus is preparing us to receive the Holy Spirit. Like the apostles in Jerusalem, we are frightened and feel inadequate. Jesus asks us not to water down his message but rather to allow his Spirit to make us courageous in daring to announce the fullness of the Gospel. There are many people who want to hear of hope, forgiveness and truth. As Jesus' time, there are many who feel harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd. We all need to hear about the Good Shepherd and about Christ's divine life in which we share through word and sacrament. These are exciting times for Christ's followers. Can we prepare to open our lives to the Holy Spirit? Loving one another as he has loved us is a quite a challenge – but it is the only way in which the face of the earth will be renewed.

+ Donal McKeown

[1] Cf Ronald Rolheiser, Forgotten among the Lilies, 2005, Doubleday, p 120

[2] Novo Millennio Ineunte, 2001, para 50.

[3] Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 2004, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, para 583

[4] Ibid, para 582

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