All posts by Fr. James Lyons

IN THE STREAM OF LIVING WATER

IN THE STREAM OF LIVING WATER

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.

HINDSIGHT – SEEING WHAT WAS OUT OF SIGHT

HINDSIGHT – SEEING WHAT WAS OUT OF SIGHT

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.

HYDRATING FAITH

HYDRATING FAITH

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.

NAMING THE KINGDOM

NAMING THE KINGDOM

HOMILY – 8th SUNDAY [A] 2017                                  [Matthew 6:24-34]

In today’s social and economic climate that expects people to take responsibility for their own welfare, the challenge that Jesus gives when he says that “Surely life means more than food and drink and the body more than clothing”, doesn’t make much sense.  How can we live without food and drink; how can we survive without the protection of clothing?

His meaning became clearer for me in a news item this week.  The headline read, World is nothing without my dog, and told the story of a woman disabled from birth finding a purpose through the loyal companionship of her dog – to the point where she has willingly gone into debt to have accommodation that accepts animals.  Her life means more than food and drink!

Such an illustration can prompt us all to consider what exactly gives life value.  Jesus does not say we don’t need food and drink or clothes or other material things; but he puts the question, Is that what gives life substance, security?

A A Milne’s famous classic, Winnie the Pooh, gives us this from Piglet: “And then he gave a very long sigh and said, ‘I wish Pooh were here.  It’s so much more friendly with two.’”   Companionship is certainly part of the answer about what gives life meaning.  But no partnership, human or animal, lasts forever.  Eventually we are on our own.  What then?

That’s the point Jesus is making.  Set your hearts on the kingdom of God first – and you’ll find your other needs will fall into place.  So, what’s this kingdom?  Look at where the life of Jesus is leading you: his lifestyle is simple, yet he doesn’t go without; he is fair and honest in his dealing with others; he doesn’t judge or condemn others, but looks for the good in everyone.

In this kingdom love takes precedence over privilege and shows itself in service and in the generous sharing of resources.  If this sounds too idealistic then look at the human response to tragedies like our recent earthquakes and fires that destroyed homes livelihoods.  Look at our own local response to the foodbank appeal, refugee resettlement, the Caritas Lenten appeal.  It is within our nature to reach out and help; to join together and eliminate isolation and the fear it brings.  The kingdom of God is among us in these actions.

Jesus says don’t lose sight of this inner desire to help.  It is God-given, and an assurance of a power that will never abandon us if we trust and play our part.  The prophet Isaiah uses the most intimate and significant of all relationships – that between a mother a child – to reinforce this truth.  Even if the unthinkable happens – a woman forgetting the child she has brought to birth – God will never forget you, or me.

Hold that truth as we enter the season of Lent this week, and make whatever adjustments need in your lifestyle to enable you to put the kingdom of God first.

WITH SALT AND LIGHT YOU ARE SENT!

WITH SALT AND LIGHT YOU ARE SENT!
HOMILY – 5th SUNDAY [A] 2017
Cardinal John has announced an Archdiocesan Synod for September. Our Prime Minister has come in behind him and announced a General Election for the same date, September 23. So the Synod dates are now the week before: September 15-17.
A synod is an opportunity for a diocese to take stock of itself – to look at what’s holding it together and to discern any possible threats; to sharpen its vision, to reaffirm its commitment to the mission and to decide what needs to be done to stay relevant to that mission and effective in what we do. What will all that mean to you and I. In what way will it affect my life as a Catholic and as a parishioner? I want to explore that a little.
The last Synod was in 2006. Cardinal John had been our Archbishop for just one year and he called the Synod to help him get to grips with his responsibility as our pastoral leader. John Paul II was still Pope and he had been emphasising the importance of collaborative ministry – of working with and for each other as a means of making the Gospel more credible and therefore more attractive.
The theme for that Synod was Salt and Light Together –and we’ve just heard it echoed in today’s scripture. Salt preserves and enhances taste; Light helps us see and makes us less afraid. We were called to be salt and light for our neighbourhoods and our world, but we could only do this together.
This was the thrust of the 2006 Synod and it led to adopting the principle of Stewardship as a way of life for the Archdiocese – the sharing of our time, talent and treasure, to strengthen our community, and make us more confident, more daring and more positive about our Christian identity.
Ten years on, our 2017 Synod ushers in a new focus for Stewardship action.
The theme this time is GO, YOU ARE SENT. It follows directly from awareness that we are salt and light. Both are useless if they’re hidden away. When Jesus first sent out the disciples it was to prepare the way for him to come. They were to open a path along which he would be recognised and welcomed. The disciples were to be “lights”, beacons to attract and reassure; they were to be “salt”, announcing a message of substance, one that would delight, taste good, and endure.
GO, YOU ARE SENT, tells us that the message needs to be heard in our own day. It presumes we are primed and ready for the task. So there will be opportunities for you and I to update ourselves, to explore issues relevant to those seeking faith, or troubled by doubts, or who have never considered the spiritual dimension of their life.
You might think you’ve got nothing to offer, or that you don’t actually want to be sent. Jesus does not choose the most competent of messengers, [see 2nd Reading – St Paul’s credentials – 1Cor.2:1-5] but those who recognise God’s love for them and who feel they can respond to that love by gifting something of themselves. God can do marvels with whatever we have to offer…
Preparation for the Synod is going to occupy every parish over the next few months. We begin today by offering the Synod Prayer. This will be prayed at every weekend Mass until the Synod. I invite you to keep the prayer given with today’s newsletter and include it with your daily personal prayer.
As a way of formally beginning our preparation, I invite you to stand and pray together our Synod Prayer:

God, whose power is at best in weakness:
You have entrusted us, in our frailty, with the awesome privilege
of being your presence in our world.
You say to each of us: Go, you are sent.

In naming and sending, you honour our ability to serve.
Yet we know our need of you, even as we travel in the
echo of your voice: Go, you are sent.

Bless our Archdiocese of Wellington as we set out
and, as you have done for so many,
strengthen our weariness, steady our trembling.
May we never forget that you are with us
and joyfully your call: Go, you are sent.

We go, gifting your mercy, proclaiming your truth,
and celebrating your goodness;
our words and actions revealing your face
to all we meet.
Blessed are you, God of the journey. Amen.