By Susan Gately - 12 May, 2014
Healthy religion is not escapism from the pain of being human. It does not offer spiritual bling and Botox, the bishop of Derry has said.
In a mass broadcast on RTE for Vocations Sunday, Bishop Donal McKeown said the the Church of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, “cannot be concerned with its own self-preservation but rather with being and offering Good News to the world – whatever the cost to itself.”
And within that, he said, were people called by Jesus to “to sell all they have and follow him”.
“For the sake of the world, they are invited to dedicate their lives to being agents of God’s love and mercy.”
For some, said the bishop, this would be through the road of prayer and contemplation, for others it would lead them to “carrying heavy crosses with people and standing in helpless solidarity with those who face terrible situations of injustice or loss.”
Others still will preach and lead lives of service.
But for those “who have recognised the voice of the Good Shepherd in the silence of their hearts, there is no choice but to give everything they have for the pearl of great value.
Bishop McKeown said that in the face of a very uncertain future, people continue to hunger for security and nourishment. “They still thirst for recognition and for belonging.”
The Gospel tells of a Jesus who wants to bring healing and hope, he said. Jesus, the good shepherd, was not a “carefree shepherd”, leading his obedient flock while he idyllically plays his panpipes.
“This is Emmanuel God-with-us, who waits for the slowest and carries the lost on his shoulders. Even when people had gone astray like sheep, his only concern is that they have can have life to the full.”
The bishop of Derry quoted Pope Francis’ appeal to the followers of Jesus to have “only one call, namely that of sharing their own experience of healing and joy with others, especially with those whose lives are marked by pain.”
Being witnesses to the truth involved “a call to heroism” in the footsteps of Jesus, he said, and ministry in his name would never be easy. But if there is to be a healing from the pain of our society then it will involve working with trust in the grace of God rather than in our own talents.
“It will involve self-transcendence rather than mere seeking self-fulfilment. Good Shepherd Sunday is not a call to spiritual childishness but an invitation to walk the rough path to human maturity via service and generosity. It is the only way to life to the full.”
Bishop Donal McKeown is bishop of Derry and chair of the Bishops’ Council for Vocations.