Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry celebrated Mass for Pentecost Sunday in Saint Eugene’s Cathedral, Derry, and during his homily he spoke of renewing our vision as a Spirit-filled Church.
Drawing on the rich symbolism of Pentecost, Bishop McKeown said, “The Christian way of seeing the world has always drawn people into a richly imaginative world, far beyond drab legalism and strict moralism.
“Our current culture is so risk averse, so keen to protect people from being challenged. It encourages, not adult imaginative behaviour, but irresponsibility – and then insists that we should not have to take responsibility for the consequences because ‘I have the right to choose’.”
The Bishop of Derry emphasised that a Pentecost Church “dares to imagine a world that could be different here and now and not just hereafter.” He cited “religious imagination” as the core inspiration for the world’s artistic patrimony, and said “it leaves me asking why so much of our modern secular artistic production seems dissonant and banal, in the name of realism. We will perhaps look back on these years, remembering not just Covid-19 but also a pandemic of banality that expects little for and from human beings.
He continued, “Our young want to be inspired by heroism and great dreams, not merely to be nailed to the banal by so-called ‘normal people’. Such an oppressive ‘new normal’ will continue to kill our young people by coldly trashing their embryonic hopes even before these ‘heretical’ uncomfortable dreams can be born in their idealistic hearts.
“But, as the early Christians – and Irish missionaries in every generation – discovered, that is a risk-packed way of living. But Fr Herbert McCabe is quoted as saying ‘If you love, you will get hurt and possibly killed. If you do not love, you are dead already.'”
Bishop McKeown warned of the temptation for the faithful to hide and wait for the “inevitable awful days ahead for a dying Church.” He said, “a Spirit-filled Church does not merely see the potential problems and sociological trends – and become self-absorbed. Pope Francis writes about those who ‘are more concerned with the road map than with the journey itself.’ Ministry in a Spirit-led Church is open to be shocked by the widespread hunger for the truth, for mercy and for healing.
“Physical cocooning may be necessary for some. Spiritual cocooning is never an option. Such a fear of giving oneself over to the Spirit’s mission ends up in a state of missionary paralysis, locked and dying behind closed doors and frightened of the Spirit.”
In conclusion, Bishop McKeown said, “Today, we pray to be renewed in our vision of who we are as a Spirit-filled Church, to become driven by God’s outrageous dreams and not by our self-centred fears. A Pentecost Church wants a joyful birthday party. Anything less misses the whole point of today’s feast. It’s all over and it’s all just about to begin.”