All posts by Fr. James Lyons

HEART AND HOME

HEART AND HOME

HOMILY – 20th SUNDAY [A] 2017                                            [Isaiah, 56:1,6-7]

Housing is a big topic in debates leading to next month’s General Election.  A forum of candidates last week, jointly sponsored by Cardinal John and Anglican Bishop Justin, heard accounts of anguished tenants and desperate homeless and social service providers.  All focussed on the absolute necessity of affordable and safe housing for everyone.

But there is also an awareness that the greater need is for a home.  A house does not automatically become a home.  This was illustrated by a homeless man who had been provided with an apartment, but felt more at home on the streets because he said, “that’s where my friends are”!  His reaction tells us something about the meaning of the expression, Home is where the heart is!

Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis has been emphasising the importance of family life – not just the nuclear family of parents and children, or even the family of nations.  He has been reminding us that the whole of creation is linked together; that everyone and everything share a common home.  As people of faith, we have a particular responsibility to take this reminder seriously, because we are privileged to know the God revealed in Jesus Christ as the Creator of all life.  We of all people should love our common home, care for it and make sure it is truly a home for everyone.

Pope Francis points out that where we live our lives affects us.  “In our rooms, our homes, our workplaces and neighbourhoods, we use our environment as a way of expressing our identity.”  Disorder, chaos, noise and ugliness, disfigure the environment, and make happiness difficult to find. [cf LS147

Today’s readings provide some helpful reflection on all of this.  God speaks through Isaiah, assuring us that the house of God is not closed to anyone.

Do what is right, care for justice, act with integrity – and I will make you joyful in my house of prayer.  My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.

It’s as though the Canaanite woman – someone outside the Jewish community – is reminding Jesus of this promise when she begs for a place for her daughter at the table – even to snatch a few crumbs!

What is God’s house, but all that God has made!  Working with the Creator, as we’ve been asked to do, we can turn that house into a home, by caring for it, showing pride in it, being welcoming and responsible.  As a house of prayer we are also ask to reverence what we find here, to respect the uniqueness of each person and each thing – not to ridicule, or bully, or intimidate…

All of us here have somewhere to live: a house, a flat, an apartment; shelter and privacy.  Turn where you live into a house of prayer by the way you live in it, and pray in it; even if it’s just your own room.  Pope Francis insists that love always proves more powerful that any anti-social behaviour or violence.  [cf LS149]  Love’s ability to weave bonds of belonging and togetherness can turn even the dullest or neglected environment into a haven of safety and peace.

While the housing crisis persists, each of us can determine to do some “home-making” in the way we relate to others: a smile, an offer of help, visit a neighbour, an extra parcel for the Food Bank, being careful not to waste or leave a mess anywhere in the home we all share.

TAKING IN THE BREEZE

TAKING IN THE BREEZE

HOMILY – 19th SUNDAY [A] 2017        [1 Kings 19:9,11-13;Matthew 14:22-33]

This afternoon a special Mass here in the cathedral honours the 200 years since the founding of the Marist Brothers.  Marcellin Champagnet was ordained a priest in 1816 in France and was immediately confronted by the appalling illiteracy and squalid social conditions among the people he was sent to serve.  The French revolution had disrupted the lives of ordinary people; like the disciples in today’s gospel, they were caught in a storm they could not control.

This young Marist priest, Marcellin, responded to an unspoken but deeply felt cry for help and began the formation of other young men who would devote their lives to lifting people from the poverty of ignorance in which they were drowning.  Like Jesus walking on the water, Marcellin did what should not have been possible: he walked an uncertain and unpredictable path to bring education, comfort and hope to youth, virtually forgotten and abandoned by society.  The Marist Brothers have grown to an international religious brotherhood over these 200 years and many thousands of young people have been given a hand up to become proud of themselves and proud contributors in their respective societies.

The prophet Elijah was looking for an assurance of God’s presence and in our first reading today his prayer is answered.  Now, Elijah is depicted as a fiery prophet who had harsh words for those he saw as the enemies of God.  He demanded obedience and had no sympathy for his opponents.  He might have expected God to take a similar stand: to be like a powerful wind or an earthquake or a raging fire, destroying all in its path.  But he learns otherwise.

God is in the gentle breeze, cool and refreshing, who could pass by almost unnoticed.  The God Elijah came to recognise was gentle, loving and merciful.

This is the God who came among us in Jesus, who does not want to see us drown in our own foolishness or pride, so comes, reaching for us, assuring us there is no need to be afraid.  Marcellin found this God as he experienced the loss of dignity in the young people and families he encountered in his parish.  Their silent cry for recognition was like the “gentle breeze” that disturbs and awakens and urges you to action.

It was the same for Mary MacKillop, a more recent saint and closer to home, whose feast was last Tuesday.  She too founded a religious teaching Order, the Sisters of St Joseph, responding to illiteracy and lack of opportunity born of poverty among Australian migrants and aboriginals; she came to New Zealand with a similar mission.  For Mary MacKillop, the “gentle breeze” was the whisperings in her heart that convinced her God was speaking.

Over recent Sundays we’ve heard Jesus explaining the kingdom of God as something that grows from small beginnings – like a seed becoming a tree, or a little yeast creating a large loaf, a small pearl worth a great deal.  Neither Marcellin nor Mary MacKillop set out to build an empire; they simply responded to a need they felt deeply about.

Like Elijah, they left the shelter and protection of their “cave” and let the “gentle breeze” of God’s love and presence pick them up and accompany them.  Like Peter stepping from the boat they had a simple trust that was not without fear.  But the hand that held them gave them everything they needed. 

Let yourself be called from the cave that shelters you; step out of the safety of your boat.  Open the gift that is yours and see the need this gift will help.  Let the gentle breeze carry you; listen to the whisperings of your heart.  And, do not be afraid.  The hand that has held so many is there for you, too.

 

 

 

SHINING LIKE THE SUN

SHINING LIKE THE SUN

HOMILY – TRANSFIGURATION – 6 August 2017

Bombings, scandals, floods, typhoons, death and destruction!  The daily diet of news tells us that’s the state of our world.  All doom and gloom!  How sad if that was true; if that was all we had.  Life would become impossible – and it has for many, with suicide rate soaring, depression sapping energy, and violent offending casting a shadow of deep darkness over society.

The Bible opens with a beautiful poetic account of the beginning of life, giving the first words to God: Let there be light!  Light was the first gift, enabling life to thrive.  Life begins in darkness – a seed buried in the ground or in the mother’s womb – but only really lives when it reaches the light.  Darkness and light complement each other.  Both are necessary for the formation and celebration of life.

Our Christian faith centres on the person of Jesus Christ who names himself as the light of the world.  The popular hymn, Christ Be Our Light, open with the line, Longing for light, we wait in darkness – capturing in a few words both the essence and the purpose of our faith.  There is a longing in every person for a peaceful life, a happy and fulfilled life; there’s a longing to be accepted, to be loved, to be forgiven.  The darkness that holds people, is the frustration of not being able to reach what they long for, blocking them from the light.

If you and I accept that Jesus is the light of the world, that all we humans long for can be found in him, and if we know that to be true for ourselves, then we cannot deny this awareness to others; we have to show the way to this light.

Today’s Gospel passage describes the transfiguration of Jesus: his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light.  Peter and the other witness didn’t want to leave the experience, but were instructed to keep the vision to themselves until the resurrection would make everything crystal clear.  We heard Peter’s testimony in our second reading, confident enough to teach that those who follow Jesus Christ are themselves transfigured – from following the light through the dark, the dawn of understanding breaks upon us and the morning star rises in our minds.  We become the light!

The American Cistercian monk, Thomas Merton, describes this beautifully.  On a busy New York city street he was suddenly struck by the realisation that he and everyone around him were members of the race which God had personally joined.  He wrote: “If only everybody could realise this!  But it cannot be explained.  There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

No, we can’t be told, but we start to wonder when we see it in others.  I had a baptism on Friday and the little child was fascinated by the candle flame.  This happens at every baptism, and not just the child is drawn to the flame.  Its brightness and gentle movement holds our gaze as though we desperately want whatever it has to offer.  That’s exactly how you and I as Christians should be to the world of people around us.  We have more than met Jesus. We have been transfigured by his coming into our lives.

You and I are shining like the sun but we allow the doom and gloom of worry and fear to blot out the image.  Don’t leave this Mass looking, as Pope Francis would say, as though you’re leaving a funeral!  Go out with a smile, greet one another.  Open the gifts you have received and live with gratefulness.  Be proud of your faith, and let the gentleness of your life be a lamp for lighting the way through the dark, helping others discover that they too are shining like the sun!

HOMILY – 17TH SUNDAY [A] 2017 – CARING SUNDAY – AMORIS LAETITIA

HOMILY – 17TH SUNDAY [A] 2017 – CARING SUNDAY – AMORIS LAETITIA

The Joy of Love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church. This sentence opens Amoris Laetitia, and echoes the opening sentence of Gaudium et Spes of the Second Vatican Council telling us that the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the (people) of this age, especially those who are poor of in any way afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.
I find this a powerful expression of Pope Francis’ emphasis on reaching back to that Council and drawing its teachings more firmly into our consciousness. His post-synodal exhortation on The Joy of Love is one of the most caring documents to emerge from the Vatican. It is sensitive to the struggles that confront couples and families in today’s world, avoids words implications of judgement and condemnation, and is rich with comfort and consolation to the troubled and wounded in today’s frantic world. For one commentator, Amoris Laetitia “speaks of inclusion and affirms the Gospel as a word spoken to all people in every circumstance as a source of hope.” [Daniel Ang – Diocese of Broken Bay]
Today is “Caring Sunday”, asking each of us to give attention to the aspect of care in our individual lives. Who cares for you? Who or what do you care for? What does being a “care-giver” really mean – is it the same as being a “care-taker”? “Pastoral care” is another term we hear quite often these days, along with “care of the environment”. What do they mean and where do these fit in your view of life?
In my understanding, the word “care” relates to gentleness, being considerate and the sharing of yourself. Someone who cares is someone who takes an interest, goes out of their way and gets into your way – not as a nuisance, but to support, to do for you what you cannot do for yourself.
Pope Francis identifies “care” with a beautiful but challenging image. He writes of the power of tenderness. [AL308] He reminds us of the shepherd who, when he finds the lost sheep, does not beat it or treat it roughly, but lifts it on his shoulders and carries it back to the flock. Tenderness enables mercy to flourish and, as a foundation of the Church’s life, ensures that the Church makes a place for everyone, with all their problems. [AL 309-310]
This Sunday’s parables are about discovering, or uncovering, hidden riches: treasure buried in a field; a rare and valuable pearl. Jesus uses them as images of the kingdom or reign of God, but they apply also to insights that come to us as life unfolds. Solomon found he was blessed with the gift of wisdom and this quality became the hallmark of his leadership. [1st Reading] The true significance of “caring” can likewise be something you “discover” or stumble across – like a carpenter friend of mine who had a poor view of those he called “do-gooders” until he was contracted to work at a hospice. The care he observed there changed not only his opinion but himself as a person. I found a treasure I didn’t know existed!” He now volunteers his gift of carpentry in his free time.
As you may know the parish published a family prayer book centred on Pope Francis’ writing on the Joy of Love. The prayers of young and not so young contributors have produced a book that puts “Caring” at the top of the agenda in family life. In caring, we celebrate, love, forgive, enjoy and praise God in all phases of living. It was a privilege to gather these prayers and experience their beauty. If you haven’t a copy of There’s a time for… it’s readily available! Responses from those who are using it tell me it is a “treasure” waiting to be discovered.
“The family…where we first learn to relate to others, to listen and share, to be patient and show respect, to help one another and live as one.” [AL 276]

GOOD AND NOT SO GOOD – WE CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT THEM!

GOOD AND NOT SO GOOD – WE CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT THEM!

HOMILY – 16th SUNDAY [A] 2017                                [Matthew 13: 24-33]

Fiona, our Lay Pastoral Leader, has shared an important insight in today’s newsletter: that the good, the bad and the ugly in each of us need not be a barrier to living with or loving ourselves.  My mother used to tell us there was a saint and a devil in every person and that she loved both.  She explained to our puzzled looks, that it was only by loving the devil that you got rid of him.  “Devils can’t stand love,” she would say.  “You kill them with love!”

Fiona’s insight and my mother’s home-spun philosophy fit well the parables of Jesus about the kingdom or reign or God.  Perfection escapes us in this life.  Success is always tempered by the realisation that I could have done better; reaching a goal only opens the path to another goal to strive for.  Complete satisfaction is an illusion.  So we must learn to live with incompletion – or at least appreciate that life does not always depend on everything going well.

In the story Jesus tells, good seed is planted but an enemy contaminates the field with “darnel”, which is described as a noxious weed that closely resembles wheat, making it hard to identify the good from the bad.  There is much here that’s helpful for our own life situations:  All relationships have to be worked at as we cope with differences of opinion, conflicting habits, understanding right from wrong and filtering out helpful from unhelpful advice.  We have to learn to live side by side with conflict, misunderstanding, and the fact that not everyone gets on with everyone else.

The servants wanted to weed out the offensive plants but the landowner told them to wait till the harvest.  It’ll be easier to tell the difference when the good seed has ripened.  This parable encourages us to live with our contradictions – just as last week’s Gospel encouraged us to live with uncertainty.

Last Thursday I was part of the first formal meeting of the New Zealand Roman Catholic/Lutheran Dialogue.  A small group came together to listen and learn; to study the history of our separation; to examine what keeps us apart and explore how what we hold in common can be further developed.  In recent years, the warming of relationships between Christian denominations and the opening up of pathways into each other’s camp, are perhaps showing us today’s Gospel parable in a new light.

500 years ago the Christian world found itself embroiled in argument and accusations that left it scattered and broken.  Over these five centuries this brokenness developed a life of its own, many offshoots resembling one another despite notable differences.  The opening up of dialogue and growing good will towards one another, could signal an approaching harvest where the goodness in each group allows the Spirit to help us in our weakness, enabling us to love the devil in us to death!

Waiting till the harvest is also a warning against making judgements about people.  How can we judge the actions or motivation of others when we so often struggle to understand or make sense of our own.  Realising the good and the bad are closely linked in my makeup, and that I cannot reach perfection before the harvest, can pave the way to tolerance and patience, the parents of kindness.

Treating one another with kindness may at first seem as powerless and pointless as a grain of wheat, a tiny seed or a piece of yeast – but what a harvest they bring!