All posts by Fr. James Lyons

LENT – THE CHRISTIAN TRAINING CAMP

LENT – THE CHRISTIAN TRAINING CAMP

HOMILY – 1 LENT [B] 2018

The Winter Olympics in South Korea is the current sporting phenomenon.  The Commonwealth Games in Queensland will be up next.  Back home, the Halberg Awards last week championed local high achievers in various sporting codes.  We admire the talent and applaud the commitment and discipline that gets people to the top of their game.  We know that success in any area of life does not come easy and is never guaranteed.

With this in mind we place ourselves once again in the arena of Lent – the training camp for Christian life.  There are six weeks ahead of us, offering space and opportunity to toughen up our spiritual lives, to become stronger and more reliable witnesses of the faith we profess.  The strength of one contributes to the strength of all.  Our whole community stands to benefit from each of us putting serious effort into this season of Lent.

Today’s readings evoke the image of baptism, the water that washed us in the name of our God and the promise of God to stay with us.  The desert experience of Jesus readies him for mission while reminding us not to forget or neglect the waters of life.  The training camp of Lent invites us to take the plunge anew and immerse ourselves in the mission to bring the healing that comes with forgiveness, peace, joy and hope into our world.

That’s what I ask you to occupy yourself with over these six weeks.  Begin the process now.  We’ll give ourselves four separate spaces, silently reflecting on how we might prepare ourselves to bring:  forgiveness, peace, joy, hope…

Forgiveness…  How good am I at forgiving?  What would make me better?

Peace…  What sort of peacemaker am I?  How might I improve?

Joy…  What joy do I feel in my life?  How can I bring joy into someone’s life?

Hope…  what do I find most hopeful about life?  How can I hold and share that hope?                                                                              God Bless our Lent!

DEPRESSION CONQUERED BY GOOD NEWS

DEPRESSION CONQUERED BY GOOD NEWS

HOMILY – 5th SUNDAY [B] 2018            [Job 7:1-4,6-7; Mark 1:29-39]

After all the hot weather of past weeks, a weather report announcing a depression settling over the country bringing lots of rain was very welcome.  Getting the tail end of a cyclone as well, was a bit too much!

But there’s a “Depression” we dare not welcome – the kind that is already among us, attacking healthy bodies, personalities and whole families.  This depression that has so many people on medication has been defined as a silent killer, the slow erosion of self. Today’s Dom/P front page – mental health services crumbling under enormous demand.  –  A person wrote of depression that, “It corners you at night or when you’re all alone and slowly eats away at any shred of happiness it can find.”

The cry of Job [1st Reading] is from one very depressed person.  Grief and sadness is all that he knows and laments, my life is but a breath, and my eyes will never again see joy.  You probably know someone like that, perhaps more than one: people who can see nothing but problems, who have nothing good to say about anyone, or who feel they have nothing to show for their life…

Another recent news item told of people who use public transport as though there was no one else with them.  A crowded bus in total silence.  No conversation, no eye contact, sitting so as not to touch the person next to you!  Headphones and cell phones signalling “keep away and don’t disturb me”!  The article suggested that, while we might be quite comfortable in that situation, isolating ourselves and block out awareness of others, could affect the ability to socialise and contribute to depression. – Yesterday (Saturday) the Pastoral Council and Parish Leadership team met to explore ways to encourage community growth during this year. Last year’s Archdiocesan Synod provided plenty of material, echoing Pope Francis’ call

to move outside the known and the comfortable, to take the message of the gospel into our social networks, people we work with and the society of which we are a part.  Our PPC has picked up on this and will assist the parish to develop a spirituality of service which will make possible a “reaching out” by individual parishioners – you and I – to bring others an appreciation of Christ.

As New Zealand continues towards becoming the most secular country, as individual rights become less and less linked to personal responsibility, as faith-based education gets swallowed up in a climate favouring no religion, the gospel message is either politely ignored or openly ridiculed.

People crowded round Jesus when they heard how he welcomed people, bringing healing to their lives through his listening ear and gentle touch.  They couldn’t get enough of him because he gave everyone a sense of being valued, of having something to offer.  Depression can’t defeat such an attitude.

Two Sunday’s ago, I mentioned the British Parliament’s initiative in setting up a Ministry of Loneliness – one of the primary sources of depression.  In the current euthanasia debate, we should not be surprised to see loneliness feature as an incentive driving people to want their life to end.  Our PPC aims to equip each of with the incentive to turn the tables, by being proactive in helping people feel good about themselves, wanted for themselves.

The newsletter item inviting your involvement in assisting a new group of refugees settle among us, is a most practical way of beginning that process.  Jesus came that we may have life.  There should be no “Jobs” among us, feeling they’re on the scrapheap!  We are children of a loving, merciful God who wants nothing but our happiness.  Live that belief and see the difference.

A RIGHT TO DIE AND A RIGHT TO KILL!

A RIGHT TO DIE AND A RIGHT TO KILL!

HOMILY – 3rd Sunday [B] – 2018                       [Jonah 3:1-5,10; Mark 1:14-20]

As a society, New Zealanders are worried about the high rate of suicide, notably among our youth – but also among farmers facing economic ruin.  How terrible to judge the only way out of your trouble is to kill yourself. Historically, society has regarded suicide as an offence against the community, emphasising no one has the right to decide when and how to end their life.

David Seymour’s “End of Life Choice Bill” now before Parliament and the public, lifts dying to another level.  It tells me that I do have a right to decide when I will die and, if I can’t make it happen on my own then I will also have a right to get someone else to help me.  But that person will have to be a “medical practitioner”, someone who has spent years training to be able to help me live.  Conflict of interest and of conscience meet in a state sponsored Bill that, if passed, will allow that medical practitioner to intentionally kill me.

With my permission, of course!  But how that permission is obtained, and how competent I might be to give my permission are very murky areas.  And should society be encouraging its members to drop out when the going gets too tough?  The proponents of the End of Life Choice Bill, are no doubt well intentioned, providing for a situation where a person can ask to have their death hastened when their suffering becomes intolerable.  But need it be?

An unexpected news item this week announced the appointment by the British government of a “Minister for Loneliness”.  It’s in response to a report finding that as many as nine million Britons are often or always lonely.  NZ has no plans to do anything similar – but think what loneliness does to a person: it cuts you off, isolates you, affects your identity, you’re in the way, valueless.

The elderly left and forgotten in a Rest Home; the disabled or deeply troubled, left to fend for themselves…  Without family, friends, or any quality company; when you can’t see more to life, it would be so easy to choose to die; with no one to help you understand your sickness, live with you through it, or help you harness it and make it work for you, then why wouldn’t you ask for help to die?

I have been with many people struggling with the news that there is no treatment for their sickness, and I have witnessed remarkable transformations as people seemingly without hope have responded to the care of those committed to helping them see more to life make the most of remaining time.

The Hospice Movement is an essential component of this kind of care, offering not only pain relief, but emotional, personal and spiritual support to every member of the family – ensuring the sick person can live well until death.  We should be taking loneliness more seriously.  I’m sure it features in making the end of life feel like the only choice.  Great public education and more resources in hospice care could make the End of Life Choice Bill unnecessary.

If we’re worried about suicide, we should be even more worried about everyone having a legal right to decide when they will die.  Over time such a right will become easy to manipulate and difficult to control.

Jonah was sent on a mission to help the people of Nineveh turn their lives around – to see more than self, and recover their sense of community.  Jesus called his first followers to a similar mission.  As fisherfolk they knew the importance of working together; they were to put those skills into building a community where the care of one another took priority.

To care is to love, and everyone responds to genuine, unselfish love – especially the sick, even someone who seems to be beyond reach, unresponsive.  None of us really wants to die.  Love helps us live beyond death.

THE CALL TO LOVE

THE CALL TO LOVE

HOMILY – 2nd SUNDAY OT [B] – 14 January 2018               [John 1:35-42]

Yesterday saw the second wedding this year in our cathedral.  Two more people answered the call to love and made a public commitment to be together till death.  The day was glorious, the smiles genuine, the excitement tangible and the bride beautiful.  A truly happy occasion.  Everything you would expect on a wedding day.

But no one expects things to stay that way.  Life challenges love with its unpredictable twists and turns.  Joy can become sadness in a moment; worry and pain can quickly erase the memory of peace and laughter.

When we travel the road of love we must be prepared for hurt on the journey; disappointment and setback.  Love is demanding and can sometimes appear to take more than it gives.  Love survives and makes sense only when it’s a shared love, not a self-centred love.

I began with the example of marriage, but it is the same for every relationship.

The first disciples of Jesus were attracted to him after hearing the witness of John [today’s gospel].  Where do you live?  Come and see!  So began a relationship not unlike any that you or I might experience.  The love that grows from a first meeting will determine the strength and endurance of the connection.  But, whether that love leads to discipleship, marriage or a deep friendship, it will not be without challenge.

Samuel [first reading] hears a voice calling his name, but needs time and help to identify it.  This uncertainty is also part of the process that guides each of us on the journey of self-discovery.  Who or what is calling me on, laying claim to me, urging me to find my complete self through this outside connection?

Take some time this week to consider your own journey:

Were you ever aware of any “call”?  It may not have been a voice, but perhaps a feeling, a sense that you were meant to go in a particular direction.  Did it lead to love, to a commitment that has brought or is bringing you to a place of personal fulfilment?  And what has challenged your love?  An illness?  A tragic loss?  Depression?  Redundancy? Aging?

How have you coped with setback?  Has it caused you to question love?  What supported you in the dark times?  How do you view love now?

St Paul [2nd reading] reminds us we are not our own property.  We belong to the Body of Christ, and we follow the crucified Jesus, the one who wove love and suffering into one basket, making visible the mystery that so many people are still not able to accept.

A father, grieving the loss of his son in a motor accident, shouted out his anger and pain at the funeral, saying, if I hadn’t loved him I wouldn’t have this sadness!!  The support we give one another, especially to those hurting or doubting, is crucial for love to survive.

Our inner being calls us to find and cling to love, for we cannot live without love.  Yet love is not easily tamed and brings its own demands.  There are consequences to loving that sometimes carry very difficult questions.  One of them relates to the current public debate on euthanasia – and that’s the theme I would like to address next week.

 

A ROAD LESS TRAVELED

A ROAD LESS TRAVELED

HOMILY – EPIPHANY 2018

Among the greetings cards I received this Christmas was one thanking me for the support that has come through my priesthood.  On the front of the card was this photo [little boy with shopping cart] and the caption: He took the road less travelled.  But he brought a helmet and a tiny shopping cart, and that made all the difference!

Inside the card was printed, No one travels through life quite like you.

The image and the message have caused me to reflect over these days about my life and about the priesthood that has carried me through 50 of my 76 years.  Yes, it has been along a road less travelled, as the role of the priest and his place among the People of God has greatly changed over this time, and at present very few people give any thought to becoming a priest.

But it remains for me an exciting and vibrant ministry, despite there being fewer priests, and despite the uncertainty and controversy surrounding many of the changes and also the painful realisation that the priesthood, like any other life, is prone to scandal.

What has made all the difference for me is the helmet and the tiny shopping cart I acquired along the way.  And what are they?  The helmet is my protection and strength that come from my prayer, and from the community that supports me, encourages me and gives me a reason to get up in the morning.  You are my helmet, covering me with your love, sheltering me, making me taller than I really am, keeping me close to God.

And the tiny shopping cart?  This carries my gold which is the wisdom I’ve learned along the way, from the good times and the bad.  It also holds the incense of your faithfulness and generosity, and the myrrh – the anointing that seals relationships formed and valued through shared experiences of grief and joy.  I push the little cart ahead of me so I don’t lose sight of these treasures.  They – you – are my compass and the star that guides me!

In all of this, the photo reminds me that I remain a child of God and can do nothing on my own.  Without my helmet and tiny cart, and all that they mean, my priesthood would quickly become lonely and ineffectual.

But this image can be yours too!  As Christians, we follow the way of Jesus and, in our secular New Zealand society, it is becoming increasingly a road less travelled.  Like the Wise Ones who sought out the Christ of God, and despite great difficulties and attempts to mislead them, succeeded in their search, each of us must be prepared to take the path not frequented by popular choice.

Because it IS less travelled, the road may not be easy, but with your helmet of support and companionship and the faith that guides your hope, you will go safely through any obstacle.  Consider carefully the treasures you choose to pack in your shopping cart.  They will make all the difference to your journey and its outcome?

To have others say, No one travels through life quite like you, is a wonderful blessing; the greatest compliment – and a powerful witness, if the love of God and neighbour has been your focus and the reason you have for everything you do.  That DOES make all the difference, and a very attractive one.