Homily of Bishop Kevin at the Diocesan Mass for Young People
Homily of Bishop Kevin at the Diocesan Mass for Young People
Sacred Heart Church, Roscommon. Mission Sunday, 22/23 October 2022
Imagine this Church, about 4 or 5 O’Clock on any winter afternoon. There may be a few people coming in and out, but it will be quiet. The red sanctuary lamp will be a visible reminder, in the half-light, that Jesus is present and that he is here to welcome you. It doesn’t matter whether you sit up the front or stand at the back. It doesn’t matter whether you are young or old. All that matters is what is in your heart.
Jesus tells us a parable from a different time and a different place, but the message is the same. There is a Pharisee (a kind of religious lawyer) and a Publican (a tax collector). Where they sit in the story is really only symbolic. The important difference between them is what they have in their hearts. On the surface the Pharisee seems to be a good person, but he is so full of his own importance that you can almost imagine him thinking that God should really be grateful that he is there at all. He has nothing but condemnation in his heart for the Tax Collector. The Tax Collector, we are told, is humble. He is only too well aware of his failings. He’s not even sure if he should be there at all. But Jesus tells us that, of the two men, it was the Tax Collector who was in right relationship with God that evening.
If, like the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, you drop into the Church on the way home from school, from a match, or from work, you may just want to sit there quietly in the stillness, or there may be something in particular that you want to pray about. Maybe you are not sure how to pray. In your heart there may be anxiety, disappointment, peace, sadness or thankfulness. That is who you are at that moment and that is how Jesus welcome you. He doesn’t ask you to pretend. You can share what is in your heart with him, just like the Tax Collector. The Tax Collector finishes by saying “God be merciful to me, a sinner”. You may choose to describe yourself as a sinner, but that is between you and God. “Mercy” is simply a word that describes how someone who is bigger or stronger than us reaches down to lift us up.
On a Saturday evening or a Sunday morning, of course, the Church is a busier, brighter place. There are probably a lot more people there too. But the same basic principle applies: it doesn’t matter where you sit or what age you are. All that matters is what is in your heart. Jesus knows you are there and he loves you for who you are. He asks you to extend that same welcome to one another, because he loves us all. We don’t come because he needs us. We come because we need him and because we need one another.
Over the past year or so, as you possibly know, the Church has started out of what we call a “synodal process”. It is a kind of conversation we have been having as we try to see what path the Holy Spirit wants us to follow, to be more completely the Church that Jesus intended. One of the things I have discovered in this listening process, is that many people – young and old; men and women (including some of the priests) worry about what other people might think of them. They don’t feel to speak about their faith. Quite a few of the young people who responded to our online survey said they don’t participate in the life of the Church, because they don’t see their friends there and they would be uncomfortable with the peer-pressure they might experience. Part of the reason I invited you here this evening was simply so that you could be together. I wanted you would see that there are actually more of you than you might imagine who are interested in or even inspired by Jesus and by what he has to say to us.
In our second reading today, St Paul describes the time when he was put on trial in Rome because of his faith in Jesus. He said he was all alone when he had to defend himself. His friends had abandoned him, but he felt Jesus especially close to him. It takes courage to be a disciple of Jesus. It always has. But many of you young people not only have courage, but you also have idealism and generosity and I know you have the capacity to commit to something or someone in whom you believe.
Today, as it happens is mission Sunday. Mission is about being sent. At our Baptism and at our Confirmation, we are entrusted with mission, but it takes a certain maturity before we can begin to see what our own unique mission might be. I’m not suggesting, by the way, that you are all called to be priests or religious sisters. That may very well be the path on which some of you are called, but it is not the vocation of the majority. But each one of you has unique gifts which can be placed at God’s service in any walk of life.
I want to encourage you not to allow the negativity of other people or of social media to undermine your faith. Don’t be afraid to commit your lives to Jesus. It is true, of course, that Jesus will ask certain sacrifices of you, but he will give back to you far more than he asks from you.
I want to suggest one or two practical things before I finish. First of all, thinking back to the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, I want to encourage you to develop the habit of dropping into the Church, it could be any Church, as you pass, and like the Tax Collector, spend a few moments just being yourself in the presence of God. Talk to him about what is in your heart, even, and especially, if things are a bit confused or uncertain. Take time also to listen with your heart for the Wisdom that comes from the Holy Spirit.
The second thing, speaking of mission, is that I suggest you think about how, as young people, you can support one another in your faith. Go together to Mass sometimes. See if there is some way in which you can be involved together in your local parish. Whenever someone in your group comes under peer-pressure because of his or her faith, stand with him or her, push back. As you probably remember, Jesus said, where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among you. I think it is also true to say that, where two or three are gathered with confidence in His name, there will soon be four or five.