All posts by Fr. James Lyons

CHANGE – AND WHAT IT BRINGS

CHANGE – AND WHAT IT BRINGS

HOMILY – ADVENT 1 [B] – 2017

If there is anything certain in life it is that nothing stays the same.  And the only certain thing about change is that it’s rarely easy.  We like what we’re comfortable with; we prefer to hold on to what’s familiar.  We’ve had a change of government; since Friday we are officially in Summer, and in worship we have changed to the season of Advent.  We Catholics have been experiencing change over the last 50 years at a greater rate than ever before – in the way we relate to other Christians and, more recently – with changes in the words of the Mass, the resignation of a Pope and the election of the first Pope from the Southern Hemisphere who, in four years has made unprecedented and good changes to the public image of the Church.  And now, this weekend, we start preparing for a change in our own parish leadership.

Change and life go hand in hand; always have, always will.  We feel it more acutely though when we find ourselves in the middle of it – and that’s exactly where we are.  In our country and in much of the so-called Western world there just aren’t enough priests to go around.  Yet, the Eucharist is our “bread and butter”; we can’t live without it. Perhaps we’ve had it too easy and are not equipped to cope when our multiple choices are suddenly reduced.

A change in Fiona’s family circumstances is forcing her to step aside from her role with us as Lay Pastoral Leader at the end of January.  I shall greatly miss her, and so will those of you who have witnessed her involvement in parish and school management these last few months.  My own personal circumstances are also changing and I accept that the administration side of parish life is demanding more than I can give.  As outlined in today’s newsletter, the time has come to prepare for new leadership at Sacred Heart. This will require patience, understanding and good will – from me, from all of us.

These same qualities for the basis for the season of Advent.  Today’s readings guide us into the advent season with indications that our approach to Christmas needs to be accompanied by change – a change of heart, a change of pace – if we’re to gain any value from the celebration.  Recognizing our dependence on God, as the clay needs the hands of the potter; acknowledging our need of one another, from an awareness that none of us can find happiness alone; knowing that we must wait for the Lord, so difficult in an age that expects and demands instant replies to electronic messaging, and instant solutions to problems.  All this signals that change is unavoidable if I am not to be swamped and battered by my own pride that requires me to be independent, self-sufficient, needing no one.

While Fiona will leave us at the end of January, my own situation will probably not change till mid-year.  Hopefully we will have another Lay Pastoral Leader early in the year and my transition to what is more appropriate to priestly ministry as opposed to administration will not greatly impact on your pastoral care.

As you and I adjust to these changes, my prayer is that we will give priority to sensitivity and respect – along with patience, understanding and good will – recognizing that this is exactly the way we should approach Christmas – sensitivity and respect – not because a baby is born in a manger but because God chooses to come among us as one of us; the Potter coming to breathe life into the clay: and bringing about the greatest change of all!

NOTHING PRIVATE ABOUT COMMUNION

NOTHING PRIVATE ABOUT COMMUNION

HOMILY – CHRIST THE KING – 26 November 2017             [Matthew 25: 31-46]

Through this month we’ve been honouring our departed loved ones.  Of course our memory of them is not confined to just one month.  They’re never far from our thoughts or our conversation.  There is, deep with us, a feeling that identifies with those we love; when they suffer we suffer with them, and when they die I sense that something inside of me has died as well.

This weekend 17 children celebrate their First Communion – another occasion easy to identify with.  People say, I see these children and I see myself on my First Communion day.  It’s a graphic reminder of a significant moment in our faith journey and a powerful example of how we see ourselves in others.  This feast of Christ the King brings this out with remarkable intimacy.

Jesus identifies with people in any kind of need: the sick, the homeless, prisoners, those empty of food or hope, the unloved and the unwanted.  These are the ones whose circumstances hold them in a deprived, powerless state, unable to thrive.  Their human dignity damaged, their connection with others severed or severely weakened, they exist rather than live.

Last Sunday was the first World Day of the Poor, and in choosing the date Pope Francis was promoting a link with today’s festival of Christ the King who came to bring good news to the poor.  By stepping into our human existence, Jesus offers a life-line: a way to reconnect, to re-identify – to rediscover the wonder of who we are.  What a great gift to be able to offer – restoring dignity, recognizing uniqueness.  I was hungry and you …; I was sick and you …!  We miss someone because part of us goes with them; helping someone can lift our spirits because, in a real sense, we’re helping ourselves.

Pope Francis provides a very helpful insight when he asks us to see the “Our Father” as the prayer of the poor.  He says: Our asking for bread expresses our entrustment to God for our basic needs in life.  Everything that Jesus taught us in this prayer expresses and brings together the cry of all who suffer from life’s uncertainties and the lack of what they need.

The Eucharist is our gateway to the Bread of Life, but entry is conditional on our being consciously aware that we are with others – connected and committed to serving one another.  The action of receiving Communion is not private or personal.  When the Host is placed in your hand or on your tongue, you are receiving not just the Risen Christ, but everyone with whom he identifies – especially those who for whatever reason feel inadequate, lost, afraid or useless.  These are the ones you embrace in your Communion with Jesus; this is the death Paul writes about [2nd Reading] – you lose yourself in them and you find yourself in the presence of Jesus.  –  Yes, we rejoice with our children on their First Communion Day.  We are proud of them and glad for them.  And we see ourselves in them.

But we must also be prepared to help them grow to understand that the real wonder of the Eucharist takes effect when it draws us into situations of need, where we become a listening ear or a forgiving heart, a welcoming word or a loving smile.  We must let our Communion open us to the brokenness or hurt, suffering or rejection that lies in our path, or within ourselves, every day – that’s where the Eucharist ceases to be mystery and becomes PRESENCE.

Just as our beloved dead remain present to us, because they are part of us, Jesus comes to us in the form of food – identifying with something everyone needs for life, drawing us into one another’s company that we might in turn identify with him, his presence and his purpose, to love and to serve.

Wellington Central Pastoral Area Newsletter 26 November 2017

The full newsletter can be viewed here.

Reflection

Today is the feast of Christ the King. This is not about honouring a King as someone in power ruling over us, as the words Christ the King may first suggest, but about honouring Christ present in every part of the universe. The full name of this feast is aptly called: “Christ the King of the Universe.”

The Gospel reminds us of what is most essential: being there for each other, walking alongside, feeding, welcoming, clothing and visiting those in need.  In doing so we will find ourselves in the company of Jesus who identifies himself with those who find life difficult.

Coming hot off the heels of the first World Day of the Poor, today’s theme sharpens the focus.  If we do not understand this feast day in the right way, then we run the risk of being like the apostles and expecting an all-powerful leader that can make things right. Pope Benedict said the Eucharist is “intrinsically fragmented” if it does not lead to concrete, practical actions of caring.

What actions can you take this week?  Where might you be led to minister to God’s “little ones”? There is no doubt that the responsibility to care falls on each one of us.  It is not something we can leave for someone else.  In the words of Jesus: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.” This is where the real power lies: in breaking open the words into actions that will make a difference.

Today in our parishes we welcome the young children who will be receiving Communion for the first time. This is their formal encounter with Christ the King of the Universe.  With us and through us they are to be nurtured and loved into the reign of God marked by justice, love and peace.

The three parishes in our Pastoral Area can take great pride in these “little ones” and in the families that have prepared them for this day.  Today as they join us at the Table of the Eucharist for the first time they are our guides on our way to meet Christ the King of the Universe.  Thank you and congratulations.  Thank you also to those who have coordinated and encouraged the preparation programme.  Your loving care has made this day possible.

 

 

Fiona Rammell
Lay Pastoral Leader

The full newsletter can be viewed here.

IN LIFE, IN DEATH – STAYING IN TOUCH

IN LIFE, IN DEATH – STAYING IN TOUCH

HOMILY – 32nd SUNDAY [A] 2017

As the family was moving away at the end of a recent burial ceremony, a small boy who had followed the proceedings with great interest suddenly became alarmed and asked, Are we leaving auntie here?   He’d seen the casket being lowered and had joined others in dropping flowers into the grave, but he hadn’t sensed the finality of it all.  I think it was his grandmother who said to him, Auntie’s now an angel; she‘s not down there anymore.  The boy got excited then – Oh good!  Auntie’s an angel!

We can learn so much that is good and positive from little ones.  This lad instinctively knew there was more to come after “auntie’s burial”.  Life cannot possibly just disappear in death.  There has to be more!  There is wisdom here, in the reaction of this little one – found so often in unexpected places – alluded to in our first reading: (Wisdom) walks about looking for those who are worthy of her and graciously shows herself to them as they go [Wisdom 6:12-16].

St Paul builds on this when he advises Christians not to mourn like people who have no hope.  None of us can escape grief – it is a natural and necessary response to loss, especially the loss of those we love.  But if your grieving detaches you from your faith – or, if your faith is just a thin veneer that peels off with the slightest tug – then loss becomes unbearable, pointless, cruel, even unjust, and anger, bitterness, resentment can quickly take its place.

This weekend also includes Memorial Day – a time for the world to remember those who gave their lives in times of war.  There is gratitude here for what their sacrifice meant.  They give us reason to keep hoping and working for respect and peace, not only between individuals but also nations.

A gospel reading often chosen for a funeral is John 14, with Jesus telling us there are “many rooms in my Father’s house.”  Another is from the prophet Isaiah who speaks of the banquet awaiting those who die in the Lord.  These are themes of security and comfort.  They relate to homecoming and help reinforce hope – and show the importance of “home” as a place of support and friendship, where we should learn the value of sharing and of hospitality.

In a real home there is always more than enough, and even a stranger is welcome.  Home is where I want to be more than anywhere else.  We can learn more about heaven at home than at church – if home reflects the presence of the One who teaches that heaven is a home.

But each of us knows that no home is ideal, and no one is perfect.  We learn more from hindsight than foresight and wisdom often comes too late!  So, while faith enables us to hope, it also brings us to pray for ourselves and our beloved dead.  The gospel parable about the bridesmaids who didn’t bring enough oil for their lamps and missed out on the banquet offer us an image that can help us in our prayer:

I believe our prayer for one another can help fill up what is lacking in our readiness to meet God.  Perfection comes slowly and I can put many obstacles in its path.  My prayer for those who have died helps top-up their oil flasks.  Darkness cannot compete with lamps fully lit.  Bathed in light, God has no difficulty recognising his children, assuring their entry to the wedding feast!

Our tradition of honouring the memory of those who have died especially during this month of November, is precisely because we do not grieve about them, like the other people who have no hope.  We remain connected and important to one another; we can help them complete their journey into the presence of God – and, when our turn comes, they are there to help us.

NEEDING ONE ANOTHER – IN LIFE AND IN DEATH

NEEDING ONE ANOTHER – IN LIFE AND IN DEATH

HOMILY – 31st SUNDAY [A] 2017                                 [Malachi 14; Matthew 23]

The death of Fr John Berry last week was followed only days later by the death of Fr John Heijen, an Assumptionist priest connected with Tawa parish and Viard College.  These deaths make a total of 12 priests who have died this year. Yes, they were mostly retired, but their absence deprives us of a presence and a witness to the vocation of service and the strength of faith.

Even in retirement priests remain concerned for the good of God’s people.  Their prayer, their offering of the Mass, and the encouragement they continue to give those who have known and served with them, all contribute to the life of the faith community and the light is darker when they leave us.

In today’s first reading, God sends a warning to priests through the prophet Malachi.  Though it’s aimed at priests of the old covenant, the Hebrew leadership that had proved itself unworthy, there is never a time when it does not have some relevance.  You have strayed from the way, the prophet cries.  You have caused many to stumble.  Such behaviour is hypocrisy that Jesus has no hesitation in condemning. [Matthew 23]

Every priest is aware that he is not a saint.  He holds a privileged position as spiritual guide and intercessor for his people, but he remains human, and is not immune from failure or sin.  So, every priest needs the prayer of his people to keep him worthy of his privilege; this priest needs your prayer.  And, when a priest dies, your prayer should continue, that whatever kindness and generosity that shone in his priesthood, might light his way to eternal peace.

What helps me in my journey as priest is the image St Paul gives us in our second reading [1 Thess. 2:7-9,13].  He sees his ministry through the eyes of motherhood, feeding and looking after her own children.  The devotion and protection every mother brings to her role is her saving grace.  She sees her child as her treasure and her first priority, a sacred privilege, unique and unrepeatable.  She is prepared to forget her own needs, give all for her child.

I’ve often thought of this image when troubled or upset; or when I know I haven’t measured up to my responsibilities.  I remind myself of the beautiful diversity among the people entrusted to my care, and their uniqueness; of the privilege that is mine to feed and look after others.  In this I am much more a mother than a father!

Baptised, we are created anew, a true child of God.  This marvellous reality, though clouded in mystery, enables us to recognise one another as sister or brother.  It’s a relationship that outshines every other connection: husband/wife, mother/father, teacher/student, priest/lay person, all cease to matter when placed alongside the free gift of God’s love brought to life in baptism.  This is the good news, the greatest news, that St Paul slaved night and day to proclaim.

Our faith in Jesus Christ unites us; the family connection carries us despite the circumstances of our personal lives; our prayer for one another is our fuel for the journey home.  Alive or dead, we belong to the Lord. Surely then, as Jesus so often insisted, there is no need to be afraid.