By Sarah Mac Donald - 13 July, 2020
“If pubs can do their best to welcome people, so can churches,” Bishop Donal McKeown said on Sunday as he congratulated parishes for reaching out and gathering parishioners as soon as they were permitted.
In Derry, Bishop McKeown told the faithful, “We will make mistakes and have to learn lessons. And we must be sure that we do not endanger anyone. But Jesus would rather that we were remembered for being too zealous than for being too frightened.”
He reminded them that the Bible is full of stories about those who were pushed away beyond their perceived limits.
“Fear imprisons but Jesus wants to liberate us. The Holy Spirit pushed the apostles out of the room where fear kept them locked away. We offer Jesus’ message of hope and we have to ensure we find ways for that hope to be proclaimed and celebrated,” he said.
Referring to Sunday’s Gospel readings, Dr McKeown said that Jesus’ contemporaries tried to suppress what He did and taught.
“That will happen in every generation. Graced growth will come through those who sow and who believe that flowers can bloom in the most unexpected of places. The sower in the parable saw beyond the rocks and the briars. That is a message for every age.”
“Don’t be afraid to let grace take root, even where you think there is no hope of a harvest,” Bishop McKeown appealed and he added that parishes must do everything they can for the people who need to hear good news while leaving it to God to worry about the future of the Church.
“This is a time for Church to proclaim seeds of hope and not promote a counsel of despair about the future of the Church,” the Bishop of Derry said.
He noted that some argued that parishes ought not to do too much for parishioners now because they will have to get used to parishes offering less in the future. “That narrative will find little support in the parables of sowing and growing,” he stressed.
“The Church is challenged to ensure that we are proclaiming a hope-filled message, even in the midst of the present situation. And that message of hope is needed.”
Dr McKeown said that Jesus’ message is never based on stoking the flames of fear. “He will point out uncomfortable truths but he always offers a way through and a way forward.”
He hit out at groups in society and in the Church who promote a narrative that a ‘fear agenda’ is being promoted by the establishment to fool and control people.
“That message seems to me to be just another fear agenda. It tells us to be afraid of the agenda of those who are telling us that we ought to be afraid of the virus. I know that there are forces which will seek to exploit the current pandemic in ways that suit their agendas and powerbases. For some people, every crisis is an opportunity, not for generosity or idealism but for greed and yet more power,” the bishop criticised.
He said people of faith are asked to keep sowing seeds of hope, not announcing a harvest of despair.
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