Category Archives: Homilies

SOWER AND SOIL – A PARTNERSHIP

SOWER AND SOIL – A PARTNERSHIP

HOMILY – 15th SUNDAY [A] 2017        [Matthew 13:1-23]

Some of the hillside on Ngauranga Gorge collapsed this week, blocking State Highway 1.  The Manawatu Gorge has been plagued by slips for years and now seems unlikely to ever reopen.  A medium size earthquake disturbed us on Monday morning, with a larger one near Invercargill.  The severe weather pattern with snow, wind and rain, has meant total chaos for much of the country.  There’s an air of uncertainty swirling around us these days; nationally and internationally, and not just with the weather.  We don’t like uncertainty; we’ve been conditioned by advertisers and salespeople to expect guarantees.

But we are being reminded more and more that we are tenants on this planet.  We don’t own it.  When the priest receives the bread and wine from you and places them on the altar table, he refers to them as fruit of the earth and work of human hands – an open reference to a partnership, a working and respectful relationship without which Earth would lie fallow and we would starve!  Whether we know it or not, acknowledge it or not, we are tied to each other and are one with Earth – our common home [Pope Francis].

Our bishops urge us to participate in the coming General Election; to get out and vote.  Their statement concerning the General Election in September lists a number of issues crucial to social well-being, such as cultural diversity, migration, housing and mental health.  Care of the environment is also listed and once again the emphasis is on the need to respect our habitat, our common home.  Election or not, we can sit back disinterested and uninvolved.

Today’s readings bring faith to the picture, securing God’s place centre stage.  The Hebrew prophet, Isaiah: linking the gifts of rain and snow to the word of God – equally necessary for life and harvest.  St Paul: the groaning of creation mirrors our own inner groaning for peace and fulfilment; freedom from chaos.  Then the section of Matthew’s Gospel: the powerful parable of Jesus about the  seed, scattered in many directions.  Some eaten by birds, some dried up by the sun, some choked by weeds, some surviving till harvest.

Throughout this grouping of scripture, the partnership between ourselves and Earth becomes increasingly clear and significant.  The seed needs to be sown for the soil and the rain to do their work, but has the sower been careful enough?  So much seed wasted on rocks, among thorns and on the edges of the field – places where it can’t grow.  The partnership collapses!  Perhaps the sower was in a hurry, anxious about another problem, or just lazy…  So much potential for good literally tossed away!

Where are you in this partnership scheme?  You might be making real efforts recycling or using less power or plastic; but are you applying the same care in your personal relationships at home or at work; and in your relationship with God? Are your simply going through the motions, doing the minimum, not bothering too much or distracted with your own concerns?

The care of our common home requires giving care to everything about us: looking after yourself and those who depend on you; then others who perhaps cannot properly care for themselves, and the wider world, the environment.  Quite a job!  You don’t have to do everything, but each one of us has to do something.  Otherwise the uncertainty just gets worse.  Make an effort this week to improve or heal a relationship in one area of your life – to ease the groaning of the earth, or the anxiety someone feels, to place yourself at the service of others or the community.  Be a sower who takes the work seriously, planting on good ground for a fruitful harvest.

HOMILY – 14TH SUNDAY [A] 2017

HOMILY – 14TH SUNDAY [A] 2017

Wellington city is often defined by reference to its harbour – and rightly so!  Every day this spread of water presents us with a different colour or mood as wind or rain disturbs the surface.  The sea sparkles in sunlight and takes up a sombre tone on cloudy days.  The harbour influences the life of the city in quite spectacular ways.

Given this influence, and the fact that we are a nation isolated by and dependent on the sea, it’s appropriate that we pause in our worship to remember and pray for seafarers and others who make their living from the sea.  Theirs is often a lonely and dangerous life, the vastness of the sea unpredictable in its temper, exposed and vulnerable to nature’s wiles and mysteries.

Sound carries across water and Jesus often preached from a fishing boat off the shore of Lake Galilee.  Perhaps his reassuring words in today’s Gospel that we would find rest and peace in his company, were first heard across the “gentle and humble” lapping of the water playing with the shore!  Many of the apostles were fishermen, and a fish became an early symbol of Eucharist.  So, it’s not surprising that the Church has been described as a ship, with Peter as the helmsman.

The image hit home hard this week as the ugly spectre of child abuse by clergy raised its head again.  Australia’s Cardinal George Pell is returning from Rome to face historical abuse charges and the barque of Peter finds itself in stormy waters.  As Catholics we are stunned and embarrassed by this news.  Hurt and anger may cause some to leave the ship; others might question whether the Church is the Titanic and how big is the iceberg we’ve just hit.

No matter the outcome, our ship will have to ride out some heavy seas before it comes in sight of a safe harbour.  We must pray sincerely for our helmsman, Pope Francis, that he will continue to stand resolutely against the wind of criticism and unfaithfulness.  We need to look carefully at our own position: am I helping to steady the boat or is my attitude contributing to its instability?  Do I have a sailor’s pride in our ship, or am I half-hearted, not fully committed?

Statistically, the Church is not the worst offender in the world-wide sex abuse scandal, but the Church is a huge promoter and defender of moral values making her fall from grace the more terrible.  Even the hint of immoral behaviour in the Church, true or false, harms and scars the body of Christ.

It’s the pattern of every life that tragedy and disappointment, heartbreak and loss weave their way into excitement and gladness, contentment and success.  Our human ups and downs closely resemble the playful and dangerous ways of the sea.  The expression “making waves” indicates our ability to cause trouble can be very deliberate.  The sea is merciless to the foolish.

Rejoice, heart and soul…Shout with gladness – This is the cry of Zechariah in the face of hardship and opposition.  It’s our first reading today and echoes the constant theme of Jesus not to be afraid, not to lose confidence in him.  We stumble and fall; our humanity is prone to weakness, even betrayal.  But the victory is assured if we follow the way of the Spirit of God living in us [2nd Reading].

Today we pray for seafarers, for their protection from stormy seas and human exploitation.  And we pray for ourselves as people of faith and hope, travelling the sea of life in the ship of Peter: heal our wounds merciful God; keep us sea-worthy, help us find rest for our souls.

HOMILY – ORDINATION ANNIVERSARY, 2 JULY 2017 – 13th Sunday [A]

HOMILY – ORDINATION ANNIVERSARY, 2 JULY 2017 – 13th Sunday [A]

As the seminary opened its gates to release a batch of students ready for ordination mid-1967, the Beatles were well on the way to converting the world to their unique brand of music.  I began my ministry to the beat of their hit single, All You Need Is Love.  It seemed a great anthem for a new priest in the immediate post-Vatican II environment.

In the exciting glow of that amazing Council, signalling long-awaited reforms within our Church, I was convinced that all I needed was love and everything else would take care of itself.  The Second Vatican Council opened doors and windows to the world, asking Catholics to engage confidently with other Christians and with issues that concerned people generally.  There were to be changes in the way we celebrated Mass; the priest would face the people for the entire liturgy, and English was to replace Latin so that everyone could understand and participate.

I found these changes exhilarating and did not appreciate till much later the anxiety and troubled conscience they meant for many of the older priests and parishioners.  Another song came to haunt my priesthood.  One of the early rock-operas explored the personality of Jesus:  Jesus Christ Superstar!  The song of Mary Magdalen, I Don’t Know How To Love Him, pushed me back to reality.  It was easy to love Jesus in the security and protection of the seminary, but in the cut and thrust of parish life, beyond the hype of change and novelty, meeting the pain that people carry in broken relationships, terminal illness, anxiety and grief, did I really know how to love him?

A personal wakeup came in a Retreat in the early 80s, and it centred on today’s second reading [Rom 6:3-4].  When I was baptised in Christ Jesus, I was baptised in his death!  How could I not encounter suffering, or have doubts, or become disillusioned?  Jesus endured all this, and more.  Unless I entered his death how could I expect to enter his resurrection?  Soon after the Retreat a third song made its mark on me: one of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s: Love Changes Everything.  There have been other songs since, but this is the one that helped cement my priesthood in the lives of the people I served.

When God told Adam, It is not good for man to be alone, he wasn’t just referring to the partnership of marriage.  God was pointing out the inescapable fact that no one can exist alone.  We are made for community; we need others in our life.  A priest cannot be a priest just for himself; his priesthood only grows and matures and makes sense in relationship with those to whom he is sent.  It is the love he meets in this relationship that changes everything.

It took me a long while to understand that this love does not exclude affection for family and friends but enriches them.  The cross of Jesus is only a burden to those who limit their love to themselves.  By “losing” or “sinking” your life into the life of Jesus, you discover yourself constantly renewed and refreshed.  As the prophet Elisha [1st Reading] gifted the couple who befriended him with new life, all your giving, and all my giving, far from depleting our resources, will open new avenues, new wonders.

The Beatles told me All You Need Is Love!  But it took a while for me to see that truth.  I first had to learn what love really meant.  I stumbled a few times trying to follow the footsteps of Jesus, and I reacted with I Don’t Know How To Love Him.  My family, and my friends in and outside the parishes I’ve served, have shown me Love Changes Everything – not in the sense of altering, but transforming – enabling me to recognise my faults, value my gifts, and honour my priesthood.  In the end, love IS all you need.  For whatever part you’ve played in my 50 years, I bless and thank you.  You are my life, my treasure.

HOMILY – CLERGY JUBILEE MASS – 20 JUNE 2017

HOMILY – CLERGY JUBILEE MASS – 20 JUNE 2017 [2 Cor. 8:1-9; Matt. 5:43-48]

St Paul identifies suffering, cheerfulness, poverty and generosity when he describes his experience of the Christians of Corinth.  Two sets of opposites: suffering/cheerfulness; poverty/generosity.  And he matches them to the qualities found in the life of Jesus, who was rich but became poor for us, gifting his life, that we might become fully alive.

This combination of seemingly incompatibles becomes even more challenging when we hear Jesus calling his followers to pray for their enemies; not to hold grudges, not to seek revenge; to love, not just friends but all people, even – and perhaps especially – those least lovable.  A tough call!  If Christians generally are expected to buy into this recipe for living, the ordained ministers are called to be exemplary models.

The priests honoured today have been on stage for 25, 50 and even 60 years.  Our separate ministries have known a variety of twists and turns.  Sixty years ago the Second Vatican Council was not on the Church’s agenda; fifty years ago, the ordination ceremony was one of the last before the reforms of Vatican II took effect; 25 years ago there was confusion and disillusionment among the People of God and many were wondering if the Council had been a mistake.  Some were calling for a return to how things used to be.

But these generations of priesthood, exposed to multiple and continuing upheavals throughout the whole of society, have been given an enormous privilege: the opportunity to understand the dynamic qualities of suffering, cheerfulness, poverty and generosity as anchors to hold every priest against the swiftly changing currents of our 20th-21st century Church.

Many ordained with us no longer serve as priests and we suffer both their struggle and their loss; the sexual abuse scandals have shattered and scarred respect for priesthood and we suffer with both victims and perpetrators.  We are witnesses countless times to the sadness of farewells.  We suffer, too, at the failure of many to grasp, even now, the opportunities the gospel offers for joy and hope for individuals and communities.

Yet that suffering is uplifted by the cheerfulness of being loved and supported by our people, witnessing the sheer delight in the meeting eyes of bride and groom, in a group gathered for baptism, in the laughter and friendship of our many relationships, the wonder and beautiful quiet before the Tabernacle, the happiness of being welcomed into the lives of those we serve.

Poverty visits the priest from many directions.  He knows that, materially, he’ll not have much to show for his life; in his celibacy he’ll never know the love of wife, or children born of their love; he will try to hold on to a poverty of spirit, for only in this poverty will he recognise the power and richness of God’s presence in his life and work; he will experience the humiliation of poverty when immersed in the struggles of his people.

But it is in the affection of those with nothing else to give that the priest will discover the meaning of generosity.  A priest told me he felt “suffocated” by the goodness and love of his people, and it is certainly overwhelming to feel the love and faithfulness of those entrusted to our care.  We are called to show the way, but our people are models for us.  Living their suffering with cheerfulness and their poverty with generosity, they light our way!

Perhaps we can now see how Jesus’ vision of making forgiveness our identifying mark becomes the cost of discipleship and purifies our vocation.

It buys us into the mystery of God’s unfathomable love.  Then it becomes much easier to pray for enemies.  Suffering and cheerfulness, poverty and generosity are gifts from the people we serve and from the God who is love.  Receiving them is very much the reward of priesthood.

The final words of the once popular priesthood prayer of Lacordaire are – this life is yours O priest of Jesus Christ.  I rephrase them today, not just for the jubilarians but for every priest here:  this gifted life, wrapped in the beauty and challenge of God’s love, is ours, priests of Jesus Christ!  Would we want it any other way?

COMMUNION: TAKING, BREAKING, GIVING

COMMUNION: TAKING, BREAKING, GIVING

HOMILY – CORPUS CHRISTI – 18 June 2017

Two weeks ago my cell phone died.  The same day I discovered my car needed a little panel-beating.  Someone said to me, What’ll be the third thing?  Yes, I know, bad things happen in threes! – But a combination of three can have a very positive side: as we reflected last Sunday, our one God is a Trinity – Three Persons.  This Mass reminds of another 3-fold formula.

Corpus Christi is the day each year when we focus on the Eucharist – the gift that Jesus makes of himself in the bread and wine.  There’s a formula associated with this, coming from Jesus’ action at the Last Supper and repeated whenever he was involved in feeding the people: Jesus takes the bread, breaks the bread and gives it to the people.  This triple action of taking, breaking, giving, is a key to our understanding not only of what the Mass is about but how our lives as Christians are to be lived.

In today’s Gospel passage, many are unable to accept Jesus’ words about the need to “eat my flesh and drink my blood”:  How can this man give us his flesh to eat? they ask.   This is not so much a question about cannibalism, but a difficulty in accepting that anyone could give the whole of themselves for the good of someone else.  What Jesus is showing is that when you give what you’ve got you will never be without; when you hold back and hoard you will never have enough!  When Jesus says, Do this in memory of me, he doesn’t want us to simply repeat his action as a kind of memorial but to give ourselves as he did.

When you love as Jesus loves you will be taken, broken and given, and you’ll never be more whole.  The Corpus Christi – the Body of Christ -festival makes the point even stronger.

What exactly is the “Body of Christ”?  Is it just the consecrated bread and the cup held out to us by the priest or lay minister?  And what is the implication of the “Amen” we say as we receive?  As a title, the Body of Christ refers to the whole Church – the People of God – people like us living out our faith in the here and now of each day, as well as those who have died and for whom we pray at every Mass.  There are also the saints, our models of Christian living.  All of us, past and present, are part of the Communion of Saints – Communion hints at the significance of this body.

A community is a union of people – never a person alone.  Communion implies a togetherness which in turn implies some sharing, some giving of one another, some energy from each to keep the community alive. The Body of Christ is the entire grouping of those who follow the way of Jesus.  He is present in that Body.  When I say AMEN to the Body of Christ, I give my agreement, and therefore my commitment, to the belief that I do not receive Jesus in isolation from all of God’s people.

When I receive the Body of Christ, I receive all of you.  In being drawn into the life of Jesus, I am drawn into your life as well.  We are one in the Body of Christ.  Jesus indicated this when he placed the Eucharist in the context of the washing of his disciples’ feet.  Only in so far as we are hospitable and caring of one another, does the life of Jesus embrace us.

The 3-time formula: Jesus took the bread, broke it and gave it, happens in an action of thanksgiving.  We give thanks for what we know we have neither created nor achieved on our own.  Three: not an omen for bad things, but a formula for a fulfilled life.  Pope Francis: “Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort.”  Your AMEN to your communion can become both an act of faith and a willing self-offering, allowing yourself to be taken, broken and shared.