Homily of Bishop Donal McKeown for Mass celebrating the Cursillo National Pilgrimage to Knock

03 Sep 2017

“Anything that does not promote a cohesive society and defend the rights of the weak will never be joy for the world” – Bishop McKeown

I knew an old teacher back in Co Down who said that he had been teaching for over 40 years and never changed his teaching style – and that he was up to date on three different occasions! That may have been an exaggeration – but every generation keeps rediscovering new things that, a few decades ago, seemed out of date.  And one of those perennial ideas is the walking pilgrimage.  Medieval pilgrims went by land to Rome, Jerusalem and Compostella – because there were no alternative modes of transport.  But pilgrims discovered that travelling was as important as arriving. And our generation has rediscovered that wasting time walking or being silent is no waste of time.

There is the old saying that the longest 30 centimetres in the world are between the head and the heart.  So it is not surprising that there are still many who rebel against the idea that we can live life on the surface or that reality is only skin deep.  The long walk that the Irish Cursillo movement does every July from Cork, Dublin, Belfast and Derry to Knock is not just a mighty undertaking – but the expression of a people, who are ready not just for the ‘Cursillo’, the short course but for the long haul.  The rocky road to truth is only really human one to walk.

The idea of the Church as a Pilgrim People is strong in the Christian tradition.  People of faith know that “here we have no lasting city” (Hb 13:14).  The image of the Exodus was strong for the Jewish people and for the early Church.  Exodus shows that here is always the human urge to look backwards, to dream of green hills far away but be afraid of moving forward in case there are none.  The biblical stories of the archetypal journey out of Egypt frame the ordeals of the desert crossing within the conviction that the God is always teaching his people something.  What the Chosen people of every generation have to learn is that we walk in faith, learning through crises, avoiding the temptation to feel masters of our journeying, ready to hear the Lord say to us – as was said to so many in the scriptures – ‘do not be afraid’.  The Lord who said ‘Behold I make all things new’(Rev 21:5) invites us in the Irish Church to walk and to let ourselves be remade by the hand of the Potter (Jer 18).  We will have to develop new skins for new wine.  Old skins do not hold new wine. (Mt 9:17)  Cursillo members, continue to be a pilgrim people, not afraid of the peripheries and not daunted by the need to trust in God and not in ourselves.  Keep offering Jesus to those who are hurting, lost or wounded.  It is by doing this that you will find Jesus again and again.

Secondly, a core part of the Cursillo spirituality is the building of a community of missionary disciples.  Our current society tends to prioritise the individual and to believe that relationships belong to the throwaway culture.  Feelings and not faithfulness are assumed to be the measure of truth.  Being true to myself is the priority.  But community calls us in a different direction.  Instead of believing that I define who I am, Jesus tells us that we find maturity in belonging.  So many of the New Testament images talk of belonging – the Body of Christ, the Vine and the Branches, the flock of the Good Shepherd etc.  In the biblical worldview, interdependence is more important that independence.  If we share the one bread of life, we are a single body.  Your emphasis on community is not just a nice experience of like-minded people being together.  Belonging is part of the Gospel, especially when it is not easy.

The World Meeting of the Families next year gives us an opportunity to reflect on the core elements of what we believe about belonging and family.  This is not the time for adopting a condemnatory approach to the situations in which many people find themselves.  As the theme of the WMOF proclaims The Gospel of the Family is joy – not condemnation – for the world.  The Cursillo emphasis on community is a timely invitation to our society to believe in the possibility of committed relationships; to point to the great capacity for self-discipline and not just for shallow self-indulgence; to say that we are capable of generous love and not just selfish lust.  The God who so loved the world – despite its sin – and whose Son offers to take away the sins of the world, invites us to live His risen life in our bodies, to act as if we believed that our bodies are Temples of the Holy Spirit.  The WMOF is a gift to us in Ireland to say that rights without responsibilities is the road to permanent adolescence and social fragmentation.  The absolutising of rights can lead to domination by those who shout the loudest.  We have a view of the human person which says that the needs of the vulnerable child are not less important than the wishes of the vocal adult.  The God of the Scriptures calls us away from being self-centred to seeing the needs of the world beyond the end of my nose.  It is the task of political leaders to promote the common good and not just sectoral interests or popular causes.  We expect our leaders to be wise and not just street wise.  The best of our humanity thrives in the context of protection for the weakest and not by promoting the wishes of the strong.  The role of the Church in the current situation is to proclaim the possibility of an adult society by modelling local adult communities where the hurting are cared for, the vulnerable protected and we dream of the best that we can become when we work together.  God’s dream for the world will not be realised by ecclesiastical smugness or by short-sighted battles for political dominance.  We all yearn for a society made secure in justice and integrity.  Anything that does not promote a cohesive society and defend the rights of the weak will never be joy for the world.  Cursillistas, keep building community.  Together we are capable of great things through God’s providence.

Thirdly, today’s Gospel reading spoke of two core elements of the Christian mission.  Mary pondered things in her heart – and the shepherds told everyone what they had seen.  The followers of Jesus have to be a people who pray and who go out.  Without contemplation, we cannot discern where the Lord is calling us to discover Jesus, the God who is with us.  But the life of prayer drives us out to share what we have seen and heard.  The purpose of prayer is to let out hearts be moulded so that – as Pope Francis writes – we can approach the concrete reality around us with the gaze of the Good Shepherd who seeks not to judge but to love (Evangelii Gaudium 125).  

One of the great strengths of the Cursillo groups is that the experience of Cursillo has driven members out to volunteer and to be engaged in their parishes.  Our economic culture proposes the depressing idea of each person comforting their deep existential loneliness with unending shallow entertainment.  TS Eliot called it being ‘distracted from distraction by distraction/Filled with fancies and empty of meaning’ (Burnt Norton, The Four Quartets).  The Gospel invites us to be fools for Christ’s sake by pondering in prayer the works of God and by sharing the Gospel that has brought them joy.  Cursillo members, keep getting involved in your parish and in your community.  For many that will help to lift the yoke that is weighing on them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of whatever oppresses them.

On our journey of faith we are accompanied by Mary who journeyed far and wide in trust, whose life was built on faithful relationships and who sought to bring her Son to people and people to her Son.  What we celebrate in her Immaculate Heart is what we are all called to become through her Son.  I believe that we are on the cusp of a new spring time in the Irish Church for the people, who walked in darkness, have seen a great light.  We commend the Cursillo movement in this country to learn from her, whom the scriptures call ‘full of grace’.  And may the silent witness of Saint Joseph and Saint John keep pointing us to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  For there alone will we find healing and joy for the world.  Amen.


  • Bishop Donal McKeown is Bishop of Derry
  • Cursillo is a lay Christian movement in which its members try and live their Christianity in the environments they find themselves, and by their witness influence others and act as Christian leaven in the homes, neighbourhoods, and workplaces.   he focus is on the person of Jesus and the movement is Catholic 

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