All posts by Fr. James Lyons

HOMILY – CLERGY JUBILEE MASS – 20 JUNE 2017

HOMILY – CLERGY JUBILEE MASS – 20 JUNE 2017 [2 Cor. 8:1-9; Matt. 5:43-48]

St Paul identifies suffering, cheerfulness, poverty and generosity when he describes his experience of the Christians of Corinth.  Two sets of opposites: suffering/cheerfulness; poverty/generosity.  And he matches them to the qualities found in the life of Jesus, who was rich but became poor for us, gifting his life, that we might become fully alive.

This combination of seemingly incompatibles becomes even more challenging when we hear Jesus calling his followers to pray for their enemies; not to hold grudges, not to seek revenge; to love, not just friends but all people, even – and perhaps especially – those least lovable.  A tough call!  If Christians generally are expected to buy into this recipe for living, the ordained ministers are called to be exemplary models.

The priests honoured today have been on stage for 25, 50 and even 60 years.  Our separate ministries have known a variety of twists and turns.  Sixty years ago the Second Vatican Council was not on the Church’s agenda; fifty years ago, the ordination ceremony was one of the last before the reforms of Vatican II took effect; 25 years ago there was confusion and disillusionment among the People of God and many were wondering if the Council had been a mistake.  Some were calling for a return to how things used to be.

But these generations of priesthood, exposed to multiple and continuing upheavals throughout the whole of society, have been given an enormous privilege: the opportunity to understand the dynamic qualities of suffering, cheerfulness, poverty and generosity as anchors to hold every priest against the swiftly changing currents of our 20th-21st century Church.

Many ordained with us no longer serve as priests and we suffer both their struggle and their loss; the sexual abuse scandals have shattered and scarred respect for priesthood and we suffer with both victims and perpetrators.  We are witnesses countless times to the sadness of farewells.  We suffer, too, at the failure of many to grasp, even now, the opportunities the gospel offers for joy and hope for individuals and communities.

Yet that suffering is uplifted by the cheerfulness of being loved and supported by our people, witnessing the sheer delight in the meeting eyes of bride and groom, in a group gathered for baptism, in the laughter and friendship of our many relationships, the wonder and beautiful quiet before the Tabernacle, the happiness of being welcomed into the lives of those we serve.

Poverty visits the priest from many directions.  He knows that, materially, he’ll not have much to show for his life; in his celibacy he’ll never know the love of wife, or children born of their love; he will try to hold on to a poverty of spirit, for only in this poverty will he recognise the power and richness of God’s presence in his life and work; he will experience the humiliation of poverty when immersed in the struggles of his people.

But it is in the affection of those with nothing else to give that the priest will discover the meaning of generosity.  A priest told me he felt “suffocated” by the goodness and love of his people, and it is certainly overwhelming to feel the love and faithfulness of those entrusted to our care.  We are called to show the way, but our people are models for us.  Living their suffering with cheerfulness and their poverty with generosity, they light our way!

Perhaps we can now see how Jesus’ vision of making forgiveness our identifying mark becomes the cost of discipleship and purifies our vocation.

It buys us into the mystery of God’s unfathomable love.  Then it becomes much easier to pray for enemies.  Suffering and cheerfulness, poverty and generosity are gifts from the people we serve and from the God who is love.  Receiving them is very much the reward of priesthood.

The final words of the once popular priesthood prayer of Lacordaire are – this life is yours O priest of Jesus Christ.  I rephrase them today, not just for the jubilarians but for every priest here:  this gifted life, wrapped in the beauty and challenge of God’s love, is ours, priests of Jesus Christ!  Would we want it any other way?

COMMUNION: TAKING, BREAKING, GIVING

COMMUNION: TAKING, BREAKING, GIVING

HOMILY – CORPUS CHRISTI – 18 June 2017

Two weeks ago my cell phone died.  The same day I discovered my car needed a little panel-beating.  Someone said to me, What’ll be the third thing?  Yes, I know, bad things happen in threes! – But a combination of three can have a very positive side: as we reflected last Sunday, our one God is a Trinity – Three Persons.  This Mass reminds of another 3-fold formula.

Corpus Christi is the day each year when we focus on the Eucharist – the gift that Jesus makes of himself in the bread and wine.  There’s a formula associated with this, coming from Jesus’ action at the Last Supper and repeated whenever he was involved in feeding the people: Jesus takes the bread, breaks the bread and gives it to the people.  This triple action of taking, breaking, giving, is a key to our understanding not only of what the Mass is about but how our lives as Christians are to be lived.

In today’s Gospel passage, many are unable to accept Jesus’ words about the need to “eat my flesh and drink my blood”:  How can this man give us his flesh to eat? they ask.   This is not so much a question about cannibalism, but a difficulty in accepting that anyone could give the whole of themselves for the good of someone else.  What Jesus is showing is that when you give what you’ve got you will never be without; when you hold back and hoard you will never have enough!  When Jesus says, Do this in memory of me, he doesn’t want us to simply repeat his action as a kind of memorial but to give ourselves as he did.

When you love as Jesus loves you will be taken, broken and given, and you’ll never be more whole.  The Corpus Christi – the Body of Christ -festival makes the point even stronger.

What exactly is the “Body of Christ”?  Is it just the consecrated bread and the cup held out to us by the priest or lay minister?  And what is the implication of the “Amen” we say as we receive?  As a title, the Body of Christ refers to the whole Church – the People of God – people like us living out our faith in the here and now of each day, as well as those who have died and for whom we pray at every Mass.  There are also the saints, our models of Christian living.  All of us, past and present, are part of the Communion of Saints – Communion hints at the significance of this body.

A community is a union of people – never a person alone.  Communion implies a togetherness which in turn implies some sharing, some giving of one another, some energy from each to keep the community alive. The Body of Christ is the entire grouping of those who follow the way of Jesus.  He is present in that Body.  When I say AMEN to the Body of Christ, I give my agreement, and therefore my commitment, to the belief that I do not receive Jesus in isolation from all of God’s people.

When I receive the Body of Christ, I receive all of you.  In being drawn into the life of Jesus, I am drawn into your life as well.  We are one in the Body of Christ.  Jesus indicated this when he placed the Eucharist in the context of the washing of his disciples’ feet.  Only in so far as we are hospitable and caring of one another, does the life of Jesus embrace us.

The 3-time formula: Jesus took the bread, broke it and gave it, happens in an action of thanksgiving.  We give thanks for what we know we have neither created nor achieved on our own.  Three: not an omen for bad things, but a formula for a fulfilled life.  Pope Francis: “Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort.”  Your AMEN to your communion can become both an act of faith and a willing self-offering, allowing yourself to be taken, broken and shared.

A FAMILY UNITED – HOMILY – TRINITY SUNDAY [A] 2017

A FAMILY UNITED

HOMILY – TRINITY SUNDAY [A] 2017

Families were torn apart, people imprisoned and tortured, wars fought and religion and faith misused. Hundreds of thousands of people died.

This is not a report of the crazed, barbaric behaviour of 21st century Islamic extremists. It is a statement about what happened between Christians in the 16th century, when attempts to reform the Catholic Church got in the way of the political and economic interests of those in power.

For over 400 years Christianity suffered the consequences of division within its own family, weakening its influence in society, perpetuating a scandal by denying the fulfilment of the prayer of Jesus that his followers might be one. The thaw began about 60 years ago and since then we have seen a significant religious climate change. From antagonism to tolerance, Christians of different denominations began speaking to one another as friends, coming together for services in Lent or at Christmas and, in emergencies such as fire or earthquake that closed or destroyed buildings, sharing their places of worship. We have come to recognise that we have more in common than what keeps us apart and there are now formal dialogues aimed at bringing about reunion.

Last Sunday such a dialogue began between the Lutheran people in New Zealand and our Roman Catholic community. In a unique and historic ceremony commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, a Lutheran bishop and a Catholic cardinal stood side by side in our cathedral and declared their desire and readiness to – in their words – work together to seek avenues of practical pastoral cooperation and support, and to explore joint worship and ecumenical hospitality for the sake of strengthening a joint witness to the Gospel in this land.

In a nearly full cathedral, Lutherans and Catholics prayed forgiveness for ways of thinking and acting that perpetuate divisions. We acknowledged that hatred and distrust grow from ignorance and intolerance, and lead to discrimination and violence. We knew we could have been referring to what is eating into our world today, and this underlined the urgency for Christians to open their arms to one another and truly move from conflict to communion.

It was not by chance that the service was held on Pentecost Sunday or that I should be speaking about it today, Trinity Sunday – for these two days that crown the Easter season celebrate the revelation of God as a Community of Persons, a family united in an eternal love that longs to embrace the whole of humanity and the entire creation.

St Paul’s words [2nd Reading] tell it all: Be united; live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. This is the God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness.[Exodus 34:8] – the God who loved the world so much that he gave his only Son. [John 3:16]

As dialogue begins between Lutherans and Catholics, we should each look to our own personal relationships. Does anyone need to hear you say “Sorry!”? Do you truly feel at peace with yourself? Look for something you can do today to help the environment, and the world so loved by God. Make a home for tenderness, compassion, kindness and faithfulness in your life this week. And give thanks that we have a God so rich in these qualities, and so united for us.

THE SPIRIT WITHIN – HOMILY – PENTECOST 2017

THE SPIRIT WITHIN

HOMILY – PENTECOST 2017

Last Tuesday I took one of my occasional train rides.  Sitting behind me was a little boy who was finishing kindergarten the next day, and his grandmother.  They’d been on an outing and she was taking him back home.  He was full of “Why?” questions: why do we have trains?  Why do we need a driver?  Why aren’t we going yet?  His nana was wonderful with him.

Later in the journey he suddenly asked, Why do you need a mother?  The answer was most impressive.  Nana provided a long list of things that a little boy couldn’t do without someone like a mother to provide: she cooks your meals and washes your clothes, she helps you get better when you are sick, she makes sure you have a warm bed to get into, she keeps you safe and helps you to be happy.

The boy was very quiet when she finished and I thought he might have got bored and gone to sleep.  But he suddenly said: I know that!

He was too young to fully appreciate those qualities of parenting, but he instinctively knew he needed them and that they were truly part of his life.

We humans are questioning beings not just when we’re little.  We are born to question.  It’s by questioning that we come to know ourselves and where we fit in the scheme of things.  As life and circumstances change the questions don’t stop, but go deeper and we are amazed that no answer ever completely satisfies.   At the same time, like the little boy, we have instinctive moments that tell us we know the answer long before we question.

We are possessed by a questioning spirit, not the kind to scare us, but to guide us!  As Jesus fulfilled his mission of revealing God to his disciples, he identified this spirit as the Holy Spirit – the binding, reassuring force of love that links people to God and to one another.

It is the Holy Spirit that makes clear what we each instinctively know: that I am loved and cared for; that there is someone to help me cope with life and who wants me to be happy; who inspires me not only to be the best  I can be, but to achieve what I wouldn’t think possible.

Pentecost celebrates the gift of that Spirit – the Spirit that puts the questions and answers together.  None of us will ever exhaust the “Why?” questions, but as people of faith, faith in the God revealed by Jesus Christ, we will catch ourselves from time to time, stop and look around in the midst of questioning and say, “I knew that!”

THE HOPE A HOME OFFERS

HOMILY – 5 EASTER – 2017 – MOTHERS’ DAY                                John 14: 1-12

When a mother dies life changes for the family left behind.  When the mother has children still dependent on her presence, her dying punches a big hole in their lives impossible to fill.  Over the past two weeks I have been involved with the deaths of two mothers, both in their 50s and both with teenage children.  The impact on these young lives has yet to be fully realised, but already it is apparent that, for them, life will never be the same.  I remember Bernadette and Melanie and their families especially today, Mothers’ Day.

There was a third funeral this week.  Herman was 86 and married for over 50 years to Joan who died two years ago.  He lived only for the day they could be together again.

No priest looks forward to a funeral.  It invariably touches the core of human existence and is charged with emotion.  The priest’s own faith is tested as he tries to console and reassure, but mostly he just listens.

Sometimes the faith of those the priest seeks to comfort seems stronger than his own – and this proved to be the case in the three funerals I’ve mentioned.

The gospel passage I’ve just read was chosen by the families for each of these funerals and spoke strongly, but in different ways, of their own faith.  When Jesus speaks of there being many rooms in his Father’s house and says, I am going away to prepare a place for you… his words tell of an unbroken connection between the life we know here and life beyond the grave.   That there are many rooms would indicate that no one’s left out of heaven.  And that Jesus himself is preparing a place –

There’s a homely feel about this image, and home is what we share with loved ones.  On this Mothers’ Day I’m sure you’ll all be trying to make home peaceful and even tidy – ways of saying thank you to Mum.  And while sadness still grips the homes of the families who have just lost their mother, the link that faith provides clears the darkness just enough to see Mum still caring, still close by.

How consoling it is, then, to be told there’ll be a room for us beyond this life; it’s very reassuring to know that I’ll be recognised as an individual, that my personality will be respected – just as my room at home lets me be myself, heaven will provide a way for me to recognise the home I never left and the person I became.  I am going away to prepare a place for you…

But – there’s always a but – Jesus follows this reassurance with some clear directions for travel: I am the way, the truth and the life – and then – no one comes to the Father except through me.  There’s an echo here of last Sunday’s gospel where Jesus describes himself as the gate to the sheepfold.  We have to go through him to the welcome that awaits us.  Jesus is our reference; his life speaks for us, opening the way for us.  You don’t prepare for unwanted guests!  Following Jesus means trying to make his qualities our own – we can’t expect to enjoy a room already totally decorated; we are to be part of the process.

Our second reading [1 Peter] calls us to be living stones, setting ourselves in line with the cornerstone that is Jesus.  Mothers are the best people to understand this.  They are the cornerstone of their homes, and they remain in place even when they die, supporting, encouraging, guiding.  Yes, my faith is tested in funerals, but in the process it is also strengthened.  And I know that the families who grieve today will pass the test of faith with the loving help of the very ones they miss.  It is our care we give one another, the generosity with which we use our gifts for the building up of the body of Christ, that brings the final consolation and guides our steps to the home that awaits us.