Homily of Bishop Donal McKeown on Vocations and Pastoral Outreach to Young People at Mass for World Youth Day

19 Jul 2008

19 July 2008

Homily of Bishop Donal McKeown, Auxiliary Bishop of Down and Connor and Chairman of the Bishops’ Commission on Vocations and Pastoral Outreach to Young People at Mass for World Youth Day, St Luke’s Church, Twinbrook, Belfast

On Saturday 19th July the Down and Connor Diocesan Vocations Commission in conjunction with YOUTHCOM (the Diocesan Youth Commission) will be hosting an evening of celebration to mark World Youth Day. Mass will be celebrated in St Luke’s Church, Twinbrook, Belfast at 9.00pm. Bishop Donal McKeown, Auxiliary Bishop of Down and Connor and Chairman of the Bishops’ Commission for Vocations and Pastoral Outreach to Young People will be principal celebrant.
After Mass there will be a presentation of faith by Youth Initiatives, Youth 2000, Focolare and the Neocatechumenal Way, followed by a live satellite relay of the World Youth Day Closing Mass with Pope Benedict XVI from Sydney Australia at 12 midnight (Irish time).

The following is the text of Bishop McKeown’s homily which is strictly embargoed until 9.00pm on Saturday 19th July.


We often think of the Gospel as being related mainly to a culture that we don’t understand nowadays. There are parables about rural life in a far away country 2000 year ago when ipods and air travel were unimaginable. Now there certainly are some obscure teachings, both from Jesus and in the rest of the bible. We know how people argue nowadays over whether particular passages about issues like sexual relationships can be interpreted. But someone said, “I’m not too worried about the passages in the bible that I don’t understand. What I do worry about is those parts of the bible that I do understand.” I think that this Gospel passage is one of those passages that is clear enough, despite some of the language used. We’d be better taking seriously the passages that are painfully clear before getting too worked up about the ones that are harder to understand. Maybe if we took the obvious ones seriously first, we’d see the complicated ones more clearly!

After all, the concern of Jesus and of the church is why there are so many weeds in the good field, so much pain and apparent evil in this beautiful world. That is a real question. We all struggle with deaths of young people, violence, greed. We hear about starvation, wars, exploitation and brutality. And we ask what is wrong. As a society, we have a popular notion that if only schools taught better there would be very few incidents of alcohol or substance abuse, irresponsible sexual behaviour or child abuse, sectarianism or racism. Some say we should have more prison places where people can be taught a hard lesson. Others say we should have better prison facilities and fewer people in jail. And day after day we keep struggling with the weeds in the wheat and wondering where they came from – because I don’t believe that any one-day old baby is born bad. So how do we live with the reality of the weeds – and how might we work to ensure that the fields of the world produce more nourishment for the hungry hearts of every man, woman and child? That was a question in Jesus’ time and governments and communities still struggle with it today. And each of us struggles with the gap in our own lives between what we would want and what we actually achieve.

Speaking to hundreds of thousands of people who gathered to meet with him on Thursday in Sydney Pope Benedict certainly tried to put his finger on the real problems that we face.

Our world has grown weary of greed, exploitation and division, of the tedium of false promises and piecemeal responses, and the pain of false promises… Perhaps reluctantly, we come to acknowledge that there re scars which mark the surface of our earth – erosion, deforestation, the squandering of the world’s mineral and ocean resources in order to fuel an insatiable consumption.

I think that we all recognise the reality of evil and ugliness. But the Holy Father didn’t just speak of the weeds. After all the whole theme of WYD 2008 is the words of Jesus to the apostles just before he left them at the Ascension. He said, “’You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses.’ Acts 1:8

The mission of Jesus – and of his body, the church and of each of us, living cells in that body – is to heal the broken heart of the world with love, hope and faith. What Jesus was asking his disciples to do was to believe that the weeds of life could be rooted out, but not just by better education, more entertainment or great government policy. It is not possible to legislate sin out of existence. But it is possible to let the grace of God heal the wounds caused by greed and neglect, so that forgiveness becomes stronger than revenge, community replaces competition, hope is victorious over despair, love roots out hatred and peace with our neighbours is seen as more important than victory over them. The parable also suggests that one of the graces of God is the ability to live with the imperfections of the world, knowing that God will collect all the good grain in our lives into his barns and get rid of the weeds. Please be patient with me, as somebody said, because God isn’t finished with me yet!

The text message from the Pope for last Thursday ties in so well with our Year of Vocation theme in Ireland. In a message set out to anyone who wants to hear, he said, “The Holy Spirit is the principal agent of salvation history: let him write your life-history 2 – BXVI.” That is the call, the vocation which we believe each of us has

to know the love of God for you and for everybody else and to know the God of love, to belong to the pilgrim people of God in all its imperfection, and to seek to serve the world and all our neighbours.

So whether you are single or married, old or young, priest, religious or lay – you are called to let the Spirit and the grace of God work in your life, to let the love of God do things through you and with you that will bring healing and hope to people. Or you can put it another way. One of the well known ads a few years ago suggested that when it comes to drinking, you should obey your thirst – and of course buy their brand of coloured fizzy water. Another ad for cosmetics suggests that you should buy their products because you’re worth it. That sort of philosophy – the type that the Pope was referring to last Thursday – suggests that you can’t really disobey your appetites and that you are really only worth the quality of your skin or the shine in your hair. The Gospel message tells us that we need to disobey our thirsts at times – because there can be weeds in our thirsts as well. Just because we want something doesn’t make it good or right.

Part of the good news is that we can control and humanise our instincts for things, sex, power, revenge – by letting the Spirit of God mould us. St Paul – who had a lot of struggles in himself – puts it clearly. He lists all the things that follow when self-indulgence is at work and he includes:

Sexual irresponsibility, jealousy, bad temper and quarrels, envy and drunkenness. Then, speaking from his own experience, he tells us what the Spirit of God brings: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Cf. Galatians 5:19-23). That is what we are asked to be witnesses of.

So following Jesus is not just a question of being nice to people and generally keeping your nose clean. People will sometimes say, “He or she was a good person, who never did wrong to anybody.” But I suggest that Jesus asks for much more than some general sense of being a nice person. That would be a pathetic presentation of the Gospel and I wouldn’t want to live, much less die, for a message like that. Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit at his baptism and he promised that Spirit to his disciples, not just at Pentecost but throughout all of time. And he invites all of us to let the Spirit of love, truth and justice mould us to make us the people that God dreams we can become.

So our vocation is not just to do some job for God – but to let God do a job on us. It is precisely in our weakness that God can do most work in us. Bring your weakness, your fears, your embarrassments to God. The Spirit comes to help us in our weakness, as Paul tells us from experience. Few of us will change the face of the earth. But we can make a difference to the scene around us. I know 120 young people who went to Lourdes last week to help push wheelchairs – and had a wonderful experience of goodness and community. But their friends at home won’t have a clue how you can spend a holiday looking after the sick – and come home bawling your eyes out about how good it was. I know an inter-county sportsman who had nothing for his 18th birthday recently but a bouncy castle out the back, plenty of grub and loads of drink, but no alcohol. Some would think him mad – but his friends who came never enjoyed anything like it.

I don’t know what Pope Benedict is going to say in Sydney in a few hours time. But I bet he’ll echo the message of Jesus – there are weeds in the world and much good grain, but that we can learn how to distinguish one from the other. We can learn how to distinguish right and wrong. He’ll tell us that, if we open ourselves in prayer and in love to the Spirit of God, we will be helped to create beauty, truth and goodness – and that, if we don’t, we will just contribute to the growth of choking weeds that will overwhelm the seeds of hope. Your vocation and mine is to be witnesses to good and to God in all that we do and are. Today’s gospel is not just some ancient meaningless text. It is a question to you and to me whether we are sowing good seed or bad. And it tells us that there are choices to be made if we are to bear good fruit that will cheer the heart and bring a smile to the often pained face of the earth.

+Donal McKeown
19th July 2008


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

Notes for Editors:

World Youth Day is a week-long series of events attended by hundreds of thousands of young people from all over the globe. It has become the largest single mobilisation of young people in the world. The week culminates in a final Mass celebrated by the Pope on the last day (the actual World Youth Day). World Youth Day is an invitation from the Pope to the youth of the world to celebrate their faith around a particular theme. The 2008 World Youth Day theme, received from Pope Benedict XVI is: ‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses.’ Acts 1:8

More than 800 young Irish Catholics supported by eight bishops including Cardinal Seán Brady and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin are in Sydney, Australia making final preparations for the vigil and closing Mass with Pope Benedict XVI.

Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Sydney Harbour by boat on Thursday 17 July where pilgrims welcomed him at the waterfront. World Youth Day 2008 marks the first visit of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to Australia. Today [Friday 18 July], Sydney came come to a halt for a re-enactment of the Stations of the Cross. On Saturday 19 July more than half a million people are expected to make the pilgrim walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to Randwick Racecourse for night prayer with Pope Benedict XVI and a night vigil. On Sunday 20 July Pope Benedict XVI will preside at the World Youth Day closing Mass where the venue for the next World Youth Day will be announced.

On Sunday 20 July, RTÉ will broadcast an hour long programme on the World Youth Day event in Sydney. Gerri Maye will present the programme at 11.00am on RTE 1 which will be highlights of the Stations of the Cross on Friday 18 July, the Vigil on Saturday night and the Closing Mass on Sunday 20 July, as well as some material that RTÉ filmed with pilgrims in Ireland before they left for World Youth Day. Due to the time difference [Sydney is nine hours ahead] RTÉ are not in a position to broadcast these events live on television however, they are providing live streaming of these three events as they happen on the RTÉ website at www.rte.ie/live. Further information on their WYD schedule is available on www.rte.ie/wyd