St Eugene’s Cathedral
Francis Street, Derry
BT48 9AP | Tel: 028 7126 2302
If life here is of little ultimate value, it is no surprise that the culture sees life before birth and after death as of little value. Thus, we have a situation in law where it is an offence to intentionally take or destroy the egg of any wild bird – but the life of an unborn human with a medical complaint does not have any such legal protection. That ideology seems to me to blindly inhuman – but a logical consequence of a one-dimensional worldview.by Bishop Donal McKeown
On the other hand, Jesus promises us love from the Father who made heaven and earth, the Holy Spirit to inspire and guide us and peace in our hearts, whatever challenges we face. We know that Jesus was hated by the powerful of his day and that his followers should expect to be marginalised. Thus, we should expect that, if we speak of grace, forgiveness and healing from God, especially for the most needy, we will be opposed and mocked by those who benefit from a market-driven ideology that benefits the strong. Jesus knew that opposition led him to Cross. Today, he is preparing those who keep his word and his dream alive to be attacked. Jesus is preparing us, not for an easy journey but for a tough struggle. Are we ready for that?
Secondly, we see from the first reading that the Holy Spirit is not just some childish soother. The Church is an organisation, led by the Holy Spirit to deal with practical decisions. The problem they face is one that comes from the rapid expansion of the early Church. Many non-Jews wanted to believe in Jesus and join the Christian community. But some Jews insisted that Jesus was a Jew and that his followers should be circumcised and follow the Jewish Law. This deep division lasted for many years. But a decision was reached at what is called the Council of Jerusalem, the first Synod in the Church. Having met and prayed, the apostles and elders sent a message saying that ‘it has been decided by the Holy Spirit and by ourselves’. We face similar decisions in the modern church as to who should be admitted to the Church and what rules they must obey. Are we to welcome all, irrespective of their lifestyle? Or have we become a small group of the elect? Is reception of the Eucharist to be a reward for the outwardly perfect or a medicine for those who stumble along? Today's readings tell me that, if we are prepared for honest conversations in the context of prayer, the Holy Spirit will guide a people who are prepared to be led. Jesus was always more concerned with bringing healing to the lepers than about protecting those who wanted lepers banned from their midst. Are we ready – as the early Jerusalem Church was – to deal with complex issues, trusting that God's Spirit will guide us?
Thirdly, Jesus always returns to the outrageous love of the Father. We can analyse the failings of our society and struggle with issues of Church politics. But unless we know the love of the Father, we are merely offering another political ideology. Jesus wants us to know the Father. Our prayer and our weekly Mass are not merely keeping a rule or twisting God's arm. Our listening to the Word of God and our sharing in the sacrifice of Calvary around the altar are directed at worshipping God, not just about entertaining ourselves or remaining childish. Jesus invites us here each week to equip us as a community of faith on a journey, called to be good news to everybody we meet. Our streets are full of people, burdened by heavy crosses. The new heavens and the new earth will not be created by us being frightened and hiding in the Church for protection. It will be promoted by those who are nourished by Word and Sacrament – and go out to share God's dream and God's love with those who feel unloved and with no dreams. But Jesus promises us love, peace and guidance if we are open to walking that sort of path with him. Are we prepared to be that sort of Church in our time and place?
These are challenging times for people of faith and for our parishes. On our synodal pathway in the Irish Church, we have to choose whether to face the future with trust in God's love and grace – or to have a view of Church that is riddled with the cancer of fear. The reading from the Book of the Apocalypse talks about the new Jerusalem, coming down from heaven. We gather here around the altar with all the angels and saints. With them we dare to say that we believe in the love of the Father, forgiveness in the Son and guidance from the Holy Spirit. Like the Apostles, we pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church that we might be courageous witnesses to God's love rather than frightened witnesses to an angry God. In today's Gospel Jesus reassures us that God is making his home in us individually, in our parishes and in our church. Are we prepared to let God be God in our day? Or are we too afraid to trust Jesus and think that we know better? That is the sort of awkward question that we have to face together, if we are to let God's grace build the new Jerusalem in our day.
+ Donal McKeown
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