All posts by Fr. James Lyons



HOMILY – 2 EASTER 2017                                             [John 20:19-31]

During this Easter week I visited my 98 year old aunt in Auckland.  She is the last of my parents’ generation and though frail still lives in her own home.  While with her, the parish visitor came for her weekly visit, bringing Communion.  When the visitor realised I was there, she suggested I should lead the service, but I declined and sat with my aunt as her sister parishioner shared the Eucharist with her.  It was a privileged experience and opened my eyes to a fresh appreciation of the presence of Jesus.

The visitor and my aunt obviously knew each other very well.  They met often, they have a shared history of parish life, their faith means the world to them, and their devotion to the Eucharist is profound and moving.  If I had led the service, there would have been a different formality, and an absence of what the familiar visitor contributed.

I participated in the service from the side line.  There was delight in the arrival of the visiting friend and a loving warmth as they greeted each other.  I listened as the gospel of the day was read and was aware of its message connecting our small gathering with the faith of generations.  There was time and a felt need to pray for others, especially the sick and lonely; and then there was great reverence as the Bread of Life was held and given and received

I could not have witnessed a better example of what it means to be “Church” and realised this experience was an almost exact replica of what is spelled out for us in today’s Eucharist.   The first Christian communities were characterised as groups faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the sharing of their lives with one another, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.  I experienced this in my aunt’s home and was reminded that this is what I am meant to witness in every Eucharist – what you and I should be experiencing at this very moment, in this gathering:

  • We come, faithful to the teaching of the apostles as proclaimed to us in the readings;
  • We have an awareness of being together, a certain unity among us;
  • We are part of the Breaking of Bread, and our prayers join us to those not here, to the sick, the troubled, the departed…

Mercy makes sense in this context, for it crowns the resurrection of Jesus with the celebration of the purpose of Christ’s coming: to heal, to bring about a wholeness in people – a wholeness and confidence that would catapult them into people’s lives and into history. The 2nd Sunday of Easter is so aptly named, Divine Mercy Sunday.

As the Father sent me, so am I sending you!  (Gospel) – to be messengers of peace, messengers of mercy.

I witnessed that message being delivered in the visit with my aunt.  It is the message we must carry with us at all times, to all places, to everyone.  It is the message that announces the presence of Jesus in the most positive and endearing way.



HOMILY – 5 LENT [A] 2017        [John 11:1-45]

Come out!  Jesus calls to Lazarus and life returns to claim the dead man from the grave.  Lazarus walks into the light and into the embrace of his family.  Come out!  It’s an ambiguous expression in our present Western society.  Come out for a walk.  Come out with me. Come out where I can see you.  These are common enough.

But “come out” or “coming out” now includes revealing your sexual identity. Those who for a long time, perhaps even a lifetime, have hidden their awareness of being different, are encouraged to “come out” into the full light of society and take ownership of the person they really are – not necessarily the person others thought they were or expected them to be.

The result is that many men and women are living more comfortably with themselves, and feeling less alien in day-to-day interaction with people generally.  Now gender equality and pressure to allow same-sex marriage are global issues.  The morality of these developments is exercising the minds of theologians, but the pastoral implications call for an altogether different approach.

Pope Francis is leading the way by pointing out that no one is to be judged for who they are.  He expects his priests to be ministers of compassion and mercy.  And, as a priest, I ask the same of the people I serve.  We are not in the business of condemnation; our role as Christians is to recognise the God-image in each person before we see anything else.

Our 21 century society is experience enormous change and change always brings turmoil and confusion as various factions struggle to find their place in the emerging newness.  The Church is part of society and cannot expect to escape the upheaval.

Those preparing for initiation as Catholic Christians need to understand that this is the path we travel: holding fast to the truth of Jesus and trying our best to live by that truth.  Weakness will appear, failure will happen, but the love of God in Jesus will carry us through, provided we keep travelling together, supporting one another by accepting the differences between us; loving, not judging; caring, not avoiding; and listening, that we might hear the pain and distress that affects us all, in order that we might bring that suffering into the light and bless it with life.

Come out! Jesus calls – not only Lazarus, but every person.  Come out and be seen.  Be proud of who you are.  Be present to one another.  Live your dignity with the confidence that you have been called.  So what, if you don’t agree with everyone, their opinions or their lifestyle!  Be assured that everyone has a part to play.

As a Christian you have been embraced by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Embrace it is return, with thanksgiving in your heart; and watch the turmoil cease as your heart finds peace.



HOMILY – 3 LENT [A] 2017                    [John, 4]

Last Tuesday our school held its annual swimming sports.  Most of the children were in the pool at some time and their obvious enjoyment and competitive spirit told me they’re very comfortable in this environment.  Less comfortable were the thousands of people caught up in the torrential rain that caused havoc and flooding as it swept through much of the North Island last week.

Water is a great mystery.  Life is lost without it; yet too much water can also destroy life!  [Record number of drownings in NZ this year]  Jesus speaks of “living water” and identifies himself as its source.  As God promised Noah that the world would never again be destroyed by flooding, Jesus promises an even flow – a stream of life-giving water that will hold in balance our self-serving survival instinct and our need to be connected with others.

We enter this stream in baptism and the refreshment of this new life provides the energy to ease the tension between self-serving and self-giving, between wanting and sharing, between loving and avoiding, between forgiving and wishing the other person harm.

(Today) the parish welcomes three people who have spent that last several months preparing to commit to the life that baptism begins: a whole-hearted following of Jesus Christ.  Their welcome is accompanied by an anointing with the Oil of Catechumens – consecrating, or making holy, the steps that have brought them to this point in their lives.  This marks their formal entry into the stream of living water, and as it carries them towards Easter they invite each of us, already baptised, to renew our own commitment, to feel anew the strength of the current urging us to live more fully the Christian life.  You do not have to witness this anointing to sense its impact and to be part of the movement.

The woman who encounters Jesus when she comes to draw water from the well has a thirst far greater than the well-water could satisfy.  Her reputation labelled her as a woman to be avoided.  That’s why she comes to the well at midday, a time when normally no one else would be there.  She has no expectation of being spoken to, as Jews and Samaritans avoided each other.  But Jesus is blind to any differences people and cultures might impose on each other and opens a conversation that in a short time would quench the longing she had for acceptance, understanding and inner healing.  She becomes the first missionary, taking the news of Jesus back to the very people that despised her.

This Eucharist is our “Well”.  Not a sun-baked opening in the ground, providing water for desert dwellers, but a spring of living water that rises in our hearts when we gather in the name of Jesus.  The refreshment available here is given to brighten our lives to the point where we become visible missionaries – making it obvious to others that we are people at peace with ourselves, loved for ourselves, having had our thirst for peace and love fully satisfied by a God who comes to us in the food and drink that is Jesus.

Those who will join the community at Easter, have been attracted by something or someone that spoke to their need for belonging and for peace.  We each have to ask ourselves what is the image of Christ that I show in my public life?  There are still people looking for the spring of living water.  Will they find it in you?

Be “Water Wise” is the advice to all who enter a pool, river or sea.  Know what you’re doing.  Work with the water as a team; serve each other.  The same wisdom will carry you through the stream of living water.  Enjoy the ride. Enjoy your faith!  Your enjoyment will be your witness.



HOMILY – 2 LENT [A] 2017                    [Matthew 17:1-9]

Hindsight! I love the taste of words, and “hindsight” has a mouthful of flavours.  It’s a word that captures its meaning in a flash!  Yet it’s not a “flashback” – not a recreating of a past event or experience, but rather a gradual unfolding, through a series of experiences that may be spread over many years, taking you back to a point in your life that you hardly noticed at the time and certainly did not understand or appreciate.

Hindsight opens your eyes to a truth that for a time lay hidden, but was always meant to contribute to your life.  Hindsight can be likened to a good parent who knows how much the child can take in at any given time and can judge whether total disclosure of something is appropriate or not.

That’s what happened with the experience of the three apostles, Peter, James and John, on the mountain.  What we call the “transfiguration” was their extraordinary meeting with Jesus when he opened to them something of his divine essence.  They could not take it in, understand it or even express what it was like.  Only later, much later, after the resurrection, would they be able to look back and grasp the significance of what they witnessed that day.

Hindsight brought them to see the full picture.  The revelation of Jesus as Son of God, to whom the prophets (Ezekiel) and great leaders of old (Moses) paid homage, would affirm and endorse the faith of those three apostles who were to lead the first Christian communities and be confronted with enormous opposition, hatred and persecution.

When Peter, James and John looked back from the horror of Calvary and the burial place of Jesus being found empty, they realised that moment with Jesus on the mountain was preparing them, transforming their minds and their hearts, to understand the impact and implication of resurrection.  Peter, who found the message of Jesus difficult to grasp and who would make the horrible blunder of denying he knew Jesus, would later write, in his first letter, that it was on the holy mountain that we saw the glory of Jesus and heard the voice of God. [cf 1 Peter 1:16-18]

When you look back at your own life, I am sure you can now see explanations for happenings you couldn’t understand or appreciate when they occurred.  The lack of clarity or the inability to make sense of something can frustrate and anger; it takes the patience and trust that grows in a loving heart to accept the waiting time.

Abraham [1st Reading] was called to leave his country, his family and his father’s house and take a direction which appeared far from certain.  Abraham, with his wife Sarah, became our ancestor in faith, stepping into the unknown with only their faith to guide them.

You and I may not have to encounter such a radical mission, but you will have met situations – perhaps you’re facing one now – where all you can do is trust. Hindsight, I believe, is a blessing that may not always solve issues, but will at least help us appreciate that, yes, there is a reason for everything.    In the end, that’s what helped the apostles.

With patience, hope and trust, whatever we can’t make sense of, or whatever seems too hard, can bring us joy and peace and life – letting doubt take care of itself.



HOMILY – 1 LENT [A] 2017                                            [Matthew 4:1-11]

An international conference at the Vatican last week was centred on the human right to fresh water, with Pope Francis expressing the fear that the next world war could be about access to fresh, clean water.  Even our own country, that has for so long prided itself on its “clean green” image, is now troubled by water contamination – to the point where in this same week the government moved to address the issue of rivers unsafe for swimmers!

We’ve just entered the season of Lent where renewal is the big theme.  But don’t think of this renewal as renewing your subscription to a club or tv channel, ticking a few boxes and agreeing to sign up for another year.  Lenten renewal is about refreshing, rejuvenating your spirit, your inner self, renewing the filters that can crumble under pressure and allow all kinds of pollutants to poison your life.

So the water issue has relevance for our appreciation of Lent.  Jesus is “led by the Spirit into the wilderness” where lack of water contributes to the wild and barren nature of the environment.  The biggest threat to life for someone lost outdoors or exposed to long periods of heat, is dehydration – the lack of water.

The snake is pictured in our first reading as the tempter, drawing us away from a good relationship with God.  Now, like us, snakes need water to survive and their habitats are mostly places with little or no water.  But they’re designed to absorb water, like the morning dew, through their skin, and they also get moisture from their prey.  The snake image in the Genesis story tells us that when we give in to temptation we allow life, in the symbol of water or moisture, to be sucked from us.  Sin dehydrates us; weakens our ability to see straight; disorients, confuses…

Despite some emergencies over water supply, we in New Zealand have no water worries when it comes to accessing water for drinking and cooking.  In fact, we take water for granted, even wasting large quantities of it.  We can do the same with faith.  Yes of course I believe, I say when asked, but how well do I look after my faith.  Do I simply take it for granted – assuming its supply is guaranteed?

As the body needs water, the soul needs prayer.  Both can dehydrate.

Lent is underway with its invitation to refresh faith, to moisturise it; to take it out of the wilderness and make it productive again.

None of us is free of temptation.  It’s part of the human package.  The temptations of Jesus make it clear that, in his humanity, Jesus was exactly like us – tempted in every way to become like gods!  Independent.  Self-willed.  But he knew the power of God’s love and stayed focused.  Prayer will do that for you and me.  Use these Lenten days to strengthen your prayer.  Keep some time aside each day to let your faith speak in the presence of God.

Hydrate yourself with an extra Mass during the week, privately walking the Stations of the Cross; sitting quietly before the Blessed Sacrament – and don’t be surprised if you suddenly find yourself involved in some action to help others.  That’s the way it is with a fully hydrated faith.  The temptation to consider only yourself is defeated; the water of God’s love sweeps you into pools of mercy and service, and Lent steps aside to reveal for you the wonder and joy of Easter.