Category Archives: Homilies




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!”


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.

Homily by Cardinal John Dew given at Ordination of Cirilo Barlis

Ordination to the Priesthood of Cirilo Barlis, 6th May 2017

Cirilo, you chose the Gospel where Jesus told you “Feed my lambs, look after my sheep, feed my sheep.” That’s the work of a shepherd; “Cirilo, Be a shepherd according to the heart of God.”’

Just 15 days after he was elected the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis preached at his first Chrism Mass, he used a phrase which has been quoted often since then.  He called on the worlds’ priests to bring the healing power of God’s love to everyone in need, to stay close to the marginalized, hurting and lonely, and told all priests to be “Shepherds living with the smell of the sheep.”

That means for you Cirilo, and for all of us that we are to be with God’s people, to know them and like a shepherd, to love them.

We heard, Jesus ask Peter, as he asks you especially today “Do you love me?” Jesus asked Peter that question three times. By now Peter had learned his lesson. Peter had been deeply humbled by his own experience of denying Jesus. We know that he denied Jesus three times even though he had said that he would lay down his life for him.

Peter may have been surprised when, on this occasion, Jesus asked him three times “Do you love me?” Jesus will ask you that same question over and over again throughout your life as a priest, and each time you assure him of your love, he will say to you again “Feed my lambs, look after my sheep, feed my sheep.” You will need to ask yourself many times how you will feed and look after the people God has entrusted to you.

Jesus wanted Peter to be a shepherd of the flock, he also wants you. There will be times when you feel like Jeremiah, think you are too young and maybe inexperienced, or you are not sure what to say. God will reassure you and say to you “Go now to those to whom I send you. Do not be afraid. I am putting my words into your mouth.”

Jesus wants you to be one of those, along with the rest of us who will soon be your brother priests, who is to feed his sheep and look after His people.  Remember always, the lambs and the sheep – the flock – belong to Jesus, not to us. It is for us to help them to be in communion with Jesus, it is for us to always go out of our way to help them and never control them.

In that Holy Thursday homily Pope Francis said: “priests who do not go out of themselves gradually become managers.”  Of course there will be things you have to manage in a parish, mundane tasks to be done, but don’t let those become your life. The people we are privileged to serve are not a project or assignment, or a business enterprise which calls for efficiency and looks to produce results. This flock is made up of real people with real needs, made up of people called by Jesus to grow in love. They grow in love when we love them.

Any of us, you and me, and your soon to be brother priests can only guide, nourish and be responsible  for people in the name of Jesus if we first accept his love and try to respond in love. That means being prepared to:

  • -give our time- even when we don’t feel like it
  • -give our energy – even if we are exhausted and think we are too tired
  • -give our hearts- even if something else seems momentarily more attractive
  • -give our life- if need be

When priesthood seems too demanding or it appears that there are too many things to do, when hard decisions have to be made, remember there are people with real human needs. The only love they may experience is when you love them in the name of Jesus – love them, look after them and feed them. That is a great privilege.

We are able to accept and take up this responsibility in the name of Jesus only when we love him and live as His friend. Never forget that Jesus says to you; “You did not choose me, no I chose you and I commissioned you to go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last….I call you friends.”

Being a chosen friend of Jesus, loving him and loving his people is not something devotional or sentimental. It is a commitment to help people to grow in the love of Jesus as we walk with them. When we walk with another person, accompany them through life we never look to see how we might control or use them, ….we always  look to see how we might set them free in the power of the Spirit of God.

If a priest fails to put his own skin and his own heart on the line he will never hear the warm heartfelt words of thanks from those he has helped. Blessed Pope Paul VI once said, “If the Lord demands sacrifice, then let there be sacrifice.”  Priests who are chosen by Jesus to love his people, to feed and nourish them must know those people, in other words, to be shepherds with the smell of the sheep.

That Holy Thursday four years ago Pope Francis said to the people “Be close to your priests with affection and with your prayers, that they may always be shepherds according to the heart of God.”

Please pray always for Cirilo, please pray for all of us, and tomorrow on Good Shepherd Sunday pray that we will be and that we will have many priestly shepherds who will know the smell of the sheep, that we are all shepherds according to the heart of God.



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 – Cardinal John Dew 15 April 2017 Easter Vigil

Easter Vigil, 2017

Yesterday, the Cross was carried into the Cathedral and three times Father James sang “Behold the wood of the cross on which hung the Savior of the world.”  Three times we responded, “Come let us worship.” It seemed that all was darkness, Jesus had died and all was darkness. We could have easily gone into despair at the words of Jesus “It is accomplished……and bowing his head he gave up his Spirit.” Maybe we identified with the despair of Mary His Mother as she saw Jesus nailed, beaten, mocked, ridiculed and dead on a cross…she would certainly have been in darkness.

This Liturgy started in darkness ……….. then we lit a fire and three times heard the words “The Light of Christ’ and we again made three responses “Thanks be to God.”

Someone by the name of Tom Shepard, I don’t know who he is, in writing about Easter said, “When I was a child, the Easter Vigil was a profound event for me. I didn’t know what was going on, but I did know they were doing everything I liked. They were playing with fire. They were playing with water. They were saying things I didn’t understand. He was blowing on the water. He was splashing the water on people. The air was full of smoke. It was dark and it was scary. It was everything that I loved.”

 Tonight is everything that we love…not just playing with fire and water, or smoke billowing all over the Church, all of those and many other things tonight are deeply symbolic and have a profound impact if we are ready to experience them deeply. The last few days have given us many powerful symbols, symbols that speak to our imagination and move our hearts.

This Easter Vigil tells the story of our salvation, the story of coming out of darkness into light. That’s our story – the first words of the Bible  “God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep…..

That was the beginning of creation, now the Rising of Jesus from the grave gives us a new creation…….we are new people who live in the light,

It was DARK for Jesus too, not just an absence of light, but the darkness of despair, his friends had all left him and now it seemed like God had deserted him too.       Remember the Passion Story from last Sunday, Palm Sunday – from St Matthew’s Gospel: “From the 6th hour there was darkness over all the land …….at about the 9th hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘My God, My God, why have you deserted me?”

Naturally life will seem dark for us at times, however we can never stay in the darkness “Do not be afraid! I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.”

As this Easter candle was lit I prayed…….“May the light of Christ, rising in glory, dispel the darkness of our minds and hearts.”

Then the light began to spread bit by bit. Light slowly spread through the Cathedral, a beautiful soft light of flickering candles, the Light of Christ began to spread over the darkness, and slowly to give us the message that it is no longer dark. We cannot live in darkness or despair. Christ is with us, risen from the dead and will never leave us.

This is the night….. said the great Hymn of Easter Praise

We pray that this candle, hallowed by the honour of your name, may persevere undimmed, to overturn the darkness of this night. May this flame be found still burning by the Morning Star

Will this light be found still burning in our hearts? Actually, this light will go out.  But at our Baptism we were given a Baptismal Candle- as will these people tonight be gifted with light hearing the words “Receive the Light of Christ…”

We take the Light of Christ with us wherever we go, especially to our homes and families?

Every year at the Mass of Chrism I am moved by the final prayer which says;  “Become the pleasing fragrance of Christ…” referring of course to the perfumed Chrism we are anointed with at Baptism, Confirmation and for we priest in Holy Orders.

“Become the pleasing fragrance of Christ…” we are that every day and in every situation. Every day we are also Christ’s light to others.  There is a well known quotation of St Catherine of Sienna: “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”

God means you and I to be the light of the Risen Jesus to the world around us.