Homily of Most Rev Donal McKeown, Auxiliary Bishop of Down and Connor for the Diocesan pilgrimage to Knock on Sunday 12th June 2005

12 Jun 2005


12 JUNE 2005





Gospel: Matthew 10:26-33

For some people, the experience of the Church in Ireland over the last twenty
years may seem to have been one of uniquely bad news. And as happens so often
in our society today, the first instinct is that, whenever anything goes wrong,
someone has to be blamed for it. Some will blame it on the decisions of the
Second Vatican Council. Others will blame the problems on the lack of
implementation of the Council’s decisions. Some will blame bishops and clergy.
Others will blame the media, the Government, the European Community or commercial
interests. But in the Gospel today, we find Jesus faced with people that are
harassed and dejected, occupied and impoverished. And his reaction is not to
blame or criticise. He simply invites people to do something about it. He invited
his first formal disciples – the 12 Apostles – go out and to bring the Good News
to the poor by word and deed.

It was nearly 26 years ago that the late Pope John Paul II – speaking outside
this very Basilica – said, “Every generation, with its own mentality and
characteristics, is like a new continent to be won for Christ”.[1] And that
message has echoed down through the late Holy Father’s entire ministry. He
sought, not to demonise this age as particularly evil or anti-church, for in
every age Original Sin has been alive and well. In Ireland we have come to
know that only too well. He recognised the reality of human frailty, greed
and pride. But he sought to speak in the name of the God who so loved and
loves the world that he sent his only Son, not to condemn the world, but so
that all who believe in Him might be saved from themselves and have eternal
life. (cf Jn 3:16-7). As our second reading tells, “Christ died for us while
we were still sinners” (Rom 5: 8) Thus all of his teachings were a constant
invitation, not to retrench and build barricades against the world, but to
enter with confidence into the world, and the harassed and dejected state in
which so many people and peoples find themselves. We have no choice as to where
and when we are called to be Christian. It is here and now that the call comes
to each of us and to all of us to bear witness to the Good News of God’s love
healing and forgiveness.

Of course, it is not – nor was it ever – easy to go out in Jesus’ name. Jesus
himself was put to death for speaking the truth about the Father and about
human relationships. The Apostles called in today’s Gospel certainly did not
find their task easy. So why should we expect it to be easy? And in regard
to the mission, Pope John Paul was very clear on two issues.

Firstly, like Jesus, he saw a world that was desperately in need of hope. We
do not need to look far to see where hope is in short supply. In a world of
tsunamis, exploitation, accidents, suicides, fickle human relationships,
addiction, wars, global warming and abuse, it can be very hard for some,
perhaps for many to believe in good, let alone believe in God. And the
candyfloss of some TV programmes and publications can be all the nourishment
they get. For some – indeed many – football has been described as their
sporting narcotic of choice. The Republic’s drinks market is estimated to
worth €5bn. That is about €100m per week, £10m per day. I see this as a sign,
not of a happy and contented Ireland, but of one desperately seeking happiness
and meaning – and being offered little. Increasing numbers of people seem to
feel harassed and dejected. That pain will not be taken away by yet more
shopping opportunities. So-called retail therapy clogs up the heart in more
ways than one. Increased freedom of choice will not help us make sense of
the world and its beauty and pain. I think it was Viktor Frankl who said
that it is was meaning rather than freedom was the greatest human need.
People of faith are invited to proclaim and celebrate Christ as the hope of
this modern world here in Ireland in 2005. Indeed, the Holy Father repeatedly
spoke of the Gospel of Hope.[2] The Gospel is about the creation of hope
rather than wishful thinking or day dreaming. It is about helping people
believe in a God who continues to believe in people, to give them confidence
that, with God’s grace, we can work to create the new heavens and the new
earth. (Rev.21:1). That is the mystery the plan that God had from all eternity
in Christ Jesus our Lord (Eph. 3:11), that He would bring everything together
under Christ, everything in heaven and everything earth (Eph. 1:10). That
is the mystery, things that no eye has seen and no ear has heard that God
has now revealed to us through the Spirit. (1 Cor. 2:10). It is a mystery
of God Emmanuel in solidarity with a fallen human race, never absorbed or
overcome by the world but never abandoning it, loving us while we were and
are still sinners. (Rom. 5:8) That is a radical solidarity of God with us.
That is the source of our hope.

Secondly, Pope John Paul II was quite clear that we can never sustain that
hope just by our own strength of will. If we are to be people who have are
motivated by the compassion of Jesus rather than just by some ideological
notion, he invites us to be people of a deep holiness that will nourish us
as witnesses to hope. He calls us to build our communities as schools of
prayer.[3] And he invites us to build a spirituality of communion – with
one another in the Trinity.[4] But that call to promote communion, peace
and solidarity in every situation is not just confined to communion within
the Church, but is a “project of solidarity for all of humanity”.[5] Jesus
was concerned about the salvation of the whole world, not just about
maintaining the comfort zone of a holy huddle. But if we want to have within
us the mind and heart of Jesus, we have to be a Eucharistic people. In this
Year of the Eucharist we are invited to contemplate the face of Christ, the
face of sorrow on the Cross and the face of the Risen One. [6] The Pope
invited us especially to “rediscover the sense of mystery …in renewing
liturgical celebrations so that they can be more eloquent signs of the
presence of Christ the Lord”[7] and develop Eucharistic adoration outside
Mass[8]. It is with such “eucharistic amazement”[9] that all renewal of the
Church will start. Structures will follow to support and promote that. But
it is only a praying people, open to the uncomfortable call of Jesus, who
will be used to renew the face of the earth. Self-righteous, complaining
and unwelcoming parish communities will not thrive because they do not reflect
the face of the God whom we find revealed in the Jesus of the Gospel. That
is why the Pope’s theme for World Youth Day in August in Germany is “we have
come to worship him”. (Matt 2:2) Our young people are as idealistic and
generous as young people ever were. They need encouragement in a tough world.
If our faith communities do not have hope, we will not be able to pass it on.
If we have the love of God in our heart, we need to ensure that we tell our
face about it!  

In that context it is as people of faith, hope and love that we consider the
issues that will be discussed at the G8 summit next month in Scotland. We live
in a world where poverty and the gap between rich and poor have reached obscene
levels. I don’t just mean the increasingly vulgar, ostentatious displays of
wealth that we find in Ireland where, despite the creation of great wealth
over the last 10 years, Government figures suggest that one in four children
lives at risk of poverty.[10] There is the obscene situation where the average
EU subsidy per cow is about €670 while the average Ethiopian’s annual income
is one eighth of that. There is the fact that 500 children die every hour from
hunger-related and other preventable diseases – while one in seven Irish people
are officially classified as obese.[11] Despite that, there is the appalling
truth that in 2004 the world spent $1 trillion on arms and a mere one twelfth
of that ($78.6 billion) on aid.[12] That is a situation that cries out to heaven.
People of faith need to call out everywhere so that Governments will be at the
service of people, rather than just at the service of powerful interest groups.
We are right to protest at the threat to the unborn child. We need to be equally
strident about the appalling deaths of 5 million born children each year. There
is more than enough for everyone’s need in the world, but not for everyone‘s
greed. But a huge range of choices tends mainly to benefit those with social
capital – and leaves the increasing number of relatively poor with few choices
about housing, food or education.

Jesus again calls all of us by name to follow him. He made it clear that he wanted
disciples who would take up their cross and follow him – not just occasional
visitors to his holy store. Prayer and holiness is not an escape from the world
but a radical call to engage with it. Jesus still calls men and women to dedicate
their lives wholly and completely to the service of the Gospel of Hope. Jesus
himself was no part-time Saviour and wants us to give our lives to him, not just a
little corner of that life. That is why the Church still invites people to leave
everything to model his generosity in priesthood and consecrated life. He wants
people who have a passion to save the world in His name, and His compassion for
those who are harassed and dejected. It is not an easy call to hear or to respond
to in our Western world, but the Church still calls for people to be life-long
visual reminders of Christ’s complete self-giving for us and solidarity with us. The
message of reconciliation, solidarity, forgiveness is no more welcome now than
it was in Jerusalem two thousand years ago. But it remains a call that is desperately
needed. For we risk drowning in our own opulence and its associated loneliness and

At Knock, Mary and John silently adored and pointed to the Lamb of God who takes
away the sin of the world. We are invited to contemplate the Lord through the eyes
of the one who loved him and to use the Rosary as “a kind of pedagogy, aimed at
evoking within our hearts the same love that Mary bore for her Son”[13]. She
invites us to “do whatever he tells you”[14]. And what he tells us is clear in
today’s Gospel. We may have come today to pray for all sorts of special intentions
and that is an expression of great faith. But he sends us back with a new confidence
to build communities that will minister to all who are harassed and dejected. The
new continent remains to be won for Christ. At Knock, Mary does not distract us
from that message but directs our mind to it.

12 June 2005

Further information:

Martin Long Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Brenda Drumm Communications Officer (087 233 7797)

[1] The Pope in Ireland. Addresses and Homilies. 1979, Dublin, Veritas, p.52
[2] Ecclesia in Europa (EiE), 2003, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, cf p.131-134
[3] At the Beginning of the New Millennium, Novo Millennio Ineunte, (NMI)  
London, Catholic Truth Society, 2001, para. 33. p.31
[4] Ibid, para. 43, p.40
[5] Mane Nobiscum Domine (MND), 2004, Dublin, Veritas, para 27, p. 22
[6] Cf. NMI, para. 25-28
[7] EiE,  para. 77.
[8] MND, para. 18.
[9] Ecclesia de Eucharistia (EdE), 2003, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, para. 6
[10] CORI Justice Commission, Pathways to Inclusion, Dublin, CORI, 2005, p.25
[11] Cf. http://www.healthpromotion.ie/topics/obesity/
[12] Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, quoted in The Independent,
London, June 9th 2005, p.1
[13] MND, para 9, p. 9-10
[14] Jn 2:5