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‘All families include imperfect relationships’

By Sarah Mac Donald - 30 December, 2015

Bishop Donal McKeown

Bishop Donal McKeown

Just because things go wrong doesn’t mean that we have to accept failure as the best that we can hope for, Bishop Donal McKeown emphasised in his homily for the Feast of the Holy Family.

The Bishop of Derry recalled a conversation he had over Christmas with an 18 year old who is going back next summer to work with the sick in Lourdes.

“She loved the challenge last year and being with people who have similar ideals to herself. She simply can’t understand some of her contemporaries who believe that the best you can expect from yourself at 18 is a week of sand, sangria, and an overdose of everything else in Magaluf! But that is what our world tells them,” he told the congregation gathered at the Church of the Holy Family, Balymagroarty, Derry.

According to the bishop, the young woman is growing up in a dangerous culture in which adults tell children, ‘Obey your thirst, life is too short to say no’, ‘Don’t cook, just eat’, ‘Life is a beautiful sport’.

“That says that their life is shallow and ultimately meaningless. No wonder that nihilistic message claims so many young lives,” he criticised.

Referring to the Gospel account of the birth of Jesus, Dr McKeown said there was nothing flattering about the circumstances of Jesus’ birth.

“Indeed Mary and Joseph are ignored by anyone of note and acknowledged only by a motley crew of shepherds and foreigners. The child’s life is at risk from the start. And we see here the adult theme of what happens when a grown up thinks their status, pride or authority are much more important than the welfare or life of a child, especially that of an uncomfortable and vulnerable one.”

He also highlighted that in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, there are “decidedly dubious characters” all of which gives the feast of the holy family a number of messages.

These include:
– All families include strange and imperfect relationships and families.
– God can write straight on very crooked lines
– Many people get to God by the scenic route!
– Just because a sword of sorrow has pierced you heart, doesn’t mean that God is not in the mix somewhere.
– Mary understands hearts that are confused and unsure what is happening, even when you have done your best.

Another message, Bishop McKeown said follows on from this is that just because things do go wrong, doesn’t mean that we accept the lowest common denominator as the norm.

Recalling his youth growing up in the 60s in the decade of ‘free love’, somebody had said to him,‘There is no such things as free love – someone always pays the price’.

“Often enough it is the woman who pays, and too often the child,” the bishop regretted and referred to figures he had heard recently which suggest that the average 16 year old in Great Britain is more likely to have a iPhone at home than their dad.

“Many single parents do not choose to be on their own. But we adults can do better, provide more hope and example for our young people than we are doing.”

He said the Gospel gives a different view of who we are. It says:
– We are capable of great faithfulness, love, generosity and sacrifice. That is not an unreasonable ideal which might cramp my fun-loving childishness. It is a call to maturity.
– We make mistakes but mercy and forgiveness are always available.
– To young people that life is not full of sound and fury signifying nothing.
– Help those who are addicted to rediscover their self-respect and self-control.
– Like Mary, that we can store special things in our heart, reflect on them, talk about them. They will bear fruit in due time.

The Feast of Holy Family, Bishop McKeown said, “is not about making people feel bad that their family is less than perfect. Why? Because the Christmas story tells of Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us in our imperfection”.

It reveals a God of mercy, who – despite human repeated mistakes – still has a dream for us and what we can become. It invites us to be adults and believe that we are all capable of faithful, responsible, non-violent relationships.

We are invited to believe in the best that human beings can be and become. That is the Good News in the Gospel, the story for adults, written by adults, he said.

“The Gospel of Jesus comforts people in their failings and afflicts those who love to condemn rather than to encourage.”

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