‘Cultural bling’ and a ‘me-centred’ Europe ‘sick in many ways’ - Derry Bishop

Bishop of Derry Dr Donal McKeown has criticised a European culture of consumerism, ‘mind-numbing entertainment’ and using people as ‘economic units’.

The Bishop was speaking about the championing of ‘me’-centred ideologies which, he said, leaves little room for spiritual growth, community building and which aims to silence any who dare proffer a differing view to current ideologies.

In his pre-Lent Homily at St Eugene’s Cathedral at the weekend, the Bishop also criticised elements of Catholic Ireland in the past in which people were quick to judge others.

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He said: “There are those who look back on the past and point out that people lived better lives than they do today. But keeping the laws was not a guarantee of virtue. Virtue and goodness come from the heart and not just from playing by the rules.

The Most Reverend Bishop Donal McKeown. DER0517GS011
The Most Reverend Bishop Donal McKeown. DER0517GS011
The Most Reverend Bishop Donal McKeown. DER0517GS011

“Church attendance and behaving well were not necessarily the same as holiness. Catholic Ireland may have had many strengths in terms of community and generosity. But it was also blind to its own failings and it was often unforgiving of those who broke some of the rules. There is no future unless we acknowledge where earlier generations were more aware of the speck in the eyes of others than of the plank in their own eyes.

“Similarly, there will be renewal and synodality in the church if everyone is prepared to acknowledge our own mistakes before we damn the other. Sound fruit will be borne only by a healthy tree. Unless there is a store of goodness in our hearts, Jesus says, we will not be people of virtue. There is no grace, beauty or love in heartless law-keeping. We have only to look at the saints to see virtue blossoming in loving hearts.”

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The Bishop said Christ’s teachings also speak into our secular world we live in today in Europe as he touched on the invasion of Ukraine.

“The horrible events in Ukraine ask our western states what is it that they stand for,” he said. “Amongst the threats to our society is not just a rampant Russian war in Central Europe, but the fact that liberal democracies look like little more than economic or industrial entities. Does Europe have any pretence at virtue or at generosity that goes beyond self-interest?

“In the last half century, consumerist culture has produced little beauty or ideals to inspire young people. There are many wonderful charities – but the economic priorities keep talking as if we were merely economic units. There is little to nourish the human spirit, little to inspire hope. A widespread emphasis on entitlement and on victimhood generates a corrosive blame culture. It is unhealthy when we demand that something impersonal called the ‘State’ should pick up the pieces of every mess that we make. A dependency culture weakens us individually and communally. Virtue and responsibility will build hope and healing.

“There is also a growing hint in some quarters that new human life can be a burden and that they should not be allowed to cramp our lifestyle. That has led to a continent where many countries have more deaths than births. A market-driven, me-centred culture, is sick in many ways. And there are those who want to crush out space for any voices that criticise the dominant ideology. Schools and groups that do not bend the knee to the blinkered agenda of the powerful will always be damned for other reasons. Sometimes, however, it is just because they dare to speak uncomfortable truths. Thus, Jesus speaks into this concrete lived reality. The Kingdom of God will be made up of people who are freed from the slavery to self and enabled to build a society based on virtue.”

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If western countries are unable to offer the world more than consumer goods and mind-numbing entertainment, the Bishop warned, then we “have nothing to boast of except our hollow economic power which struggles to drown out our nightmares”.

“No wonder so many young people are disorientated and disillusioned,” he added.

The temptation, he added, is there to ‘smugly and angrily condemn’ and to be ‘blinded by the cultural bling that flatters us’.

“Jesus invites us to build parish communities who can speak the truth in love with a smile on their face. If we are going to challenge others to live with integrity, we have to be living examples of that ourselves. Young people will be drawn by those in all age groups who live an inspiring lifestyle. Those who inspire can be family members, or priest/religious, or colleague, or teacher or sports trainers.

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“In history there have always been bursts of generous individuals who chose to love in communities, dedicated to Christ and to address some obvious need of their time. Francis of Assisi, and Mother Teresa, are just two of the innumerable examples of people whose faith drove them to live with integrity and to encourage people who felt overwhelmed by the needs of their society. Virtue always seeks to burst out. The human hunger for holiness and wholeness cannot be completely crushed by the problems that we human beings have created in our world. Great saints knew that they could not change everything for everybody. So, like Jesus, they set themselves to do something for somebody - and that made all the difference,” he said.