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Bishop McKeown speaks out about “moral pygmies”

By Ann Marie Foley - 03 June, 2020

Bishop Donal McKeown

Our current culture is risk averse, keen to protect people from being challenged, encourages irresponsibility and “makes for moral pygmies”, according to Bishop Donal McKeown.

In his Pentecost Sunday homily, the Bishop of Derry said that the prevailing culture “insists that we should not have to take responsibility for the consequences because ‘I have the right to choose’. That makes for moral pygmies. It stifles the imagination, or limits it to deceptive make-believe worlds, allegedly offering role models for everybody that are unattainable and that are often little more than marketing ploys to get children’s money.”

He went on to say that a Pentecost Church is not “spiritual science fiction”. In fact, it “dares to imagine a world that could be different here and now and not just hereafter”.

He said that so much of the world’s artistic patrimony is inspired by a religious imagination, whereas 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 said.

“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.”

He recalled the early Christians and Irish missionaries in every generation who discovered what could be called a risk-packed way of living.

He quoted Fr Herbert McCabe who said: “If you love, you will get hurt and possibly killed. If you do not love, you are dead already.”

He cautioned against what Pope Francis refers to as a sort of Christianity that “stifles boldness and zeal [and] is a defeatism which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, sourpusses”.

He referred to the gospel, where the disciples were thrown out of their upper room into a strange environment.

“We, too, are being tossed out into the strange world of lockdown and pandemic. There is the temptation to hide, to wait till this is all over or to say that we are just preparing for the inevitable awful days ahead for a dying Church,” he said. But instead he said that the community of the diocese will have to come out of this challenge.

He said that a Spirit-filled Church does not merely see the potential problems and sociological trends and become self-absorbed.

“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.

He concluded by urging people to pray to be renewed in the vision of who we are as a Spirit-filled Church and “to become driven by God’s outrageous dreams and not by our self-centred fears”.

Quoting one of Brian Friel’s plays, he said: “It’s all over and it’s all just about to begin.”

Bishop Donal McKeown, Bishop of Derry, delivered his homily on Pentecost Sunday (31 May 2020) in Saint Eugene’s Cathedral, Derry.

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