Category Archives: Homilies

NOTHING PRIVATE ABOUT COMMUNION

NOTHING PRIVATE ABOUT COMMUNION

HOMILY – CHRIST THE KING – 26 November 2017             [Matthew 25: 31-46]

Through this month we’ve been honouring our departed loved ones.  Of course our memory of them is not confined to just one month.  They’re never far from our thoughts or our conversation.  There is, deep with us, a feeling that identifies with those we love; when they suffer we suffer with them, and when they die I sense that something inside of me has died as well.

This weekend 17 children celebrate their First Communion – another occasion easy to identify with.  People say, I see these children and I see myself on my First Communion day.  It’s a graphic reminder of a significant moment in our faith journey and a powerful example of how we see ourselves in others.  This feast of Christ the King brings this out with remarkable intimacy.

Jesus identifies with people in any kind of need: the sick, the homeless, prisoners, those empty of food or hope, the unloved and the unwanted.  These are the ones whose circumstances hold them in a deprived, powerless state, unable to thrive.  Their human dignity damaged, their connection with others severed or severely weakened, they exist rather than live.

Last Sunday was the first World Day of the Poor, and in choosing the date Pope Francis was promoting a link with today’s festival of Christ the King who came to bring good news to the poor.  By stepping into our human existence, Jesus offers a life-line: a way to reconnect, to re-identify – to rediscover the wonder of who we are.  What a great gift to be able to offer – restoring dignity, recognizing uniqueness.  I was hungry and you …; I was sick and you …!  We miss someone because part of us goes with them; helping someone can lift our spirits because, in a real sense, we’re helping ourselves.

Pope Francis provides a very helpful insight when he asks us to see the “Our Father” as the prayer of the poor.  He says: Our asking for bread expresses our entrustment to God for our basic needs in life.  Everything that Jesus taught us in this prayer expresses and brings together the cry of all who suffer from life’s uncertainties and the lack of what they need.

The Eucharist is our gateway to the Bread of Life, but entry is conditional on our being consciously aware that we are with others – connected and committed to serving one another.  The action of receiving Communion is not private or personal.  When the Host is placed in your hand or on your tongue, you are receiving not just the Risen Christ, but everyone with whom he identifies – especially those who for whatever reason feel inadequate, lost, afraid or useless.  These are the ones you embrace in your Communion with Jesus; this is the death Paul writes about [2nd Reading] – you lose yourself in them and you find yourself in the presence of Jesus.  –  Yes, we rejoice with our children on their First Communion Day.  We are proud of them and glad for them.  And we see ourselves in them.

But we must also be prepared to help them grow to understand that the real wonder of the Eucharist takes effect when it draws us into situations of need, where we become a listening ear or a forgiving heart, a welcoming word or a loving smile.  We must let our Communion open us to the brokenness or hurt, suffering or rejection that lies in our path, or within ourselves, every day – that’s where the Eucharist ceases to be mystery and becomes PRESENCE.

Just as our beloved dead remain present to us, because they are part of us, Jesus comes to us in the form of food – identifying with something everyone needs for life, drawing us into one another’s company that we might in turn identify with him, his presence and his purpose, to love and to serve.

CELEBRATING POVERTY

CELEBRATING POVERTY

HOMILY – 33rd SUNDAY [A] 2017

Pope Francis chose this Sunday for the first World Day of the Poor, because it is followed next week by the festival of Christ the King, whose purpose in coming was to bring good news to the poor, give the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free.  So, today, we remind ourselves of this mission, renew our stand against all forms of poverty, and say YES to the call of Jesus to be part of his reign.  This will mean, of course, recognising our own poverty before God.

Our Archbishop, Cardinal John, has prepared a presentation on can be viewed through the link provided.  In it he asks us to approach poverty in its widest sense – realising that we are all poor without the gifts with which God blesses us.  These are found in the earth and atmosphere that support life.  They belong to everyone.  Living justly and lovingly, destroying meanness with kindness and prejudice with friendship, are the surest ways of making everyone rich.

Perfection, as the Book of Proverbs, claims, is unattainable if your concern is only for yourself.  The reading speaks of the perfect wife, but it applies to everyone: She holds out her hand to the poor, she opens her arms to the needy…  This concern for others comes from awareness that we cannot survive on our own.  We are connected to all life, including earth, sea and sky.  When those bonds are broken, poverty is released to cripple and scar relationships.

The parable of the talents tells us that whatever we’re given, however little, is not meant for us alone.  Our gifts are on loan, to be grown and developed for the good of all creation.  Letting them lie fallow contributes nothing to growth and only invites decay.  As you listen to Cardinal John’s presentation and watch the scenes illustrating the message, identify in your heart the gifts that are yours, and think how quickly and positively you might respond.

IN LIFE, IN DEATH – STAYING IN TOUCH

IN LIFE, IN DEATH – STAYING IN TOUCH

HOMILY – 32nd SUNDAY [A] 2017

As the family was moving away at the end of a recent burial ceremony, a small boy who had followed the proceedings with great interest suddenly became alarmed and asked, Are we leaving auntie here?   He’d seen the casket being lowered and had joined others in dropping flowers into the grave, but he hadn’t sensed the finality of it all.  I think it was his grandmother who said to him, Auntie’s now an angel; she‘s not down there anymore.  The boy got excited then – Oh good!  Auntie’s an angel!

We can learn so much that is good and positive from little ones.  This lad instinctively knew there was more to come after “auntie’s burial”.  Life cannot possibly just disappear in death.  There has to be more!  There is wisdom here, in the reaction of this little one – found so often in unexpected places – alluded to in our first reading: (Wisdom) walks about looking for those who are worthy of her and graciously shows herself to them as they go [Wisdom 6:12-16].

St Paul builds on this when he advises Christians not to mourn like people who have no hope.  None of us can escape grief – it is a natural and necessary response to loss, especially the loss of those we love.  But if your grieving detaches you from your faith – or, if your faith is just a thin veneer that peels off with the slightest tug – then loss becomes unbearable, pointless, cruel, even unjust, and anger, bitterness, resentment can quickly take its place.

This weekend also includes Memorial Day – a time for the world to remember those who gave their lives in times of war.  There is gratitude here for what their sacrifice meant.  They give us reason to keep hoping and working for respect and peace, not only between individuals but also nations.

A gospel reading often chosen for a funeral is John 14, with Jesus telling us there are “many rooms in my Father’s house.”  Another is from the prophet Isaiah who speaks of the banquet awaiting those who die in the Lord.  These are themes of security and comfort.  They relate to homecoming and help reinforce hope – and show the importance of “home” as a place of support and friendship, where we should learn the value of sharing and of hospitality.

In a real home there is always more than enough, and even a stranger is welcome.  Home is where I want to be more than anywhere else.  We can learn more about heaven at home than at church – if home reflects the presence of the One who teaches that heaven is a home.

But each of us knows that no home is ideal, and no one is perfect.  We learn more from hindsight than foresight and wisdom often comes too late!  So, while faith enables us to hope, it also brings us to pray for ourselves and our beloved dead.  The gospel parable about the bridesmaids who didn’t bring enough oil for their lamps and missed out on the banquet offer us an image that can help us in our prayer:

I believe our prayer for one another can help fill up what is lacking in our readiness to meet God.  Perfection comes slowly and I can put many obstacles in its path.  My prayer for those who have died helps top-up their oil flasks.  Darkness cannot compete with lamps fully lit.  Bathed in light, God has no difficulty recognising his children, assuring their entry to the wedding feast!

Our tradition of honouring the memory of those who have died especially during this month of November, is precisely because we do not grieve about them, like the other people who have no hope.  We remain connected and important to one another; we can help them complete their journey into the presence of God – and, when our turn comes, they are there to help us.

NEEDING ONE ANOTHER – IN LIFE AND IN DEATH

NEEDING ONE ANOTHER – IN LIFE AND IN DEATH

HOMILY – 31st SUNDAY [A] 2017                                 [Malachi 14; Matthew 23]

The death of Fr John Berry last week was followed only days later by the death of Fr John Heijen, an Assumptionist priest connected with Tawa parish and Viard College.  These deaths make a total of 12 priests who have died this year. Yes, they were mostly retired, but their absence deprives us of a presence and a witness to the vocation of service and the strength of faith.

Even in retirement priests remain concerned for the good of God’s people.  Their prayer, their offering of the Mass, and the encouragement they continue to give those who have known and served with them, all contribute to the life of the faith community and the light is darker when they leave us.

In today’s first reading, God sends a warning to priests through the prophet Malachi.  Though it’s aimed at priests of the old covenant, the Hebrew leadership that had proved itself unworthy, there is never a time when it does not have some relevance.  You have strayed from the way, the prophet cries.  You have caused many to stumble.  Such behaviour is hypocrisy that Jesus has no hesitation in condemning. [Matthew 23]

Every priest is aware that he is not a saint.  He holds a privileged position as spiritual guide and intercessor for his people, but he remains human, and is not immune from failure or sin.  So, every priest needs the prayer of his people to keep him worthy of his privilege; this priest needs your prayer.  And, when a priest dies, your prayer should continue, that whatever kindness and generosity that shone in his priesthood, might light his way to eternal peace.

What helps me in my journey as priest is the image St Paul gives us in our second reading [1 Thess. 2:7-9,13].  He sees his ministry through the eyes of motherhood, feeding and looking after her own children.  The devotion and protection every mother brings to her role is her saving grace.  She sees her child as her treasure and her first priority, a sacred privilege, unique and unrepeatable.  She is prepared to forget her own needs, give all for her child.

I’ve often thought of this image when troubled or upset; or when I know I haven’t measured up to my responsibilities.  I remind myself of the beautiful diversity among the people entrusted to my care, and their uniqueness; of the privilege that is mine to feed and look after others.  In this I am much more a mother than a father!

Baptised, we are created anew, a true child of God.  This marvellous reality, though clouded in mystery, enables us to recognise one another as sister or brother.  It’s a relationship that outshines every other connection: husband/wife, mother/father, teacher/student, priest/lay person, all cease to matter when placed alongside the free gift of God’s love brought to life in baptism.  This is the good news, the greatest news, that St Paul slaved night and day to proclaim.

Our faith in Jesus Christ unites us; the family connection carries us despite the circumstances of our personal lives; our prayer for one another is our fuel for the journey home.  Alive or dead, we belong to the Lord. Surely then, as Jesus so often insisted, there is no need to be afraid.

HOMILY – 28th SUNDAY [A] 2017

HOMILY – 28th SUNDAY [A] 2017

When you’ve had a holiday, as I’ve just had, you usually return grateful for the time away, grateful to be back safely, and grateful to return to the life and friends that supported your time away. This, for me, is highlighted in today’s First Reading – the banquet of rich food and fine wines, signalling that all is well and couldn’t be better.

There’s another level to returning home that requires some thoughtful readjustment: nothing stays the same in your absence. Two of my brother priests died while I was away – Frs Des Moosman and Eric Urlich, both with whom I lived and worked – and two special parishioners, Pattie Blackmore and John Douglas.

Pattie: a most gentle and faithful person, with a wonderfully close bond with her grandchildren, one of our volunteer Guardians who cared about this cathedral as her own home. John Douglas: a thoughtful and generous person who, despite a serious sight disability, was a skilled pianist and broadcaster and a person of deep faith and trust. I brought Communion to John and anointed him two days before I left,though aware of the extent of his illness. He commented on the gift of faith – I don’t know where I’d be without it.

I returned to learn another parishioner, Frank Fox, had just died. Frank’s funeral was Friday. At least two further parishioners have required major surgery over recent weeks, and on the wider community front, our Archdiocese has had a Synod and our nation a General Election. Homecoming is a graphic reminder that nothing stays the same.

Using the image of the banquet – food rich and juicy, of fine strained wines – the prophet Isaiah is presenting the ultimate in comfort to a people at the mercy of drought and crop failures, and often separated by tribal warfare and territorial disputes. He tells them it is the Lord God who prepares and provides the banquet, and until they recognise this they will not find peace or fulfilment.
At the heart of any banquet is community. You cannot have a banquet on your own. Rejoicing and celebrating makes no sense if there’s no one with you! The changes we experience in life are almost always linked to relationships. Family, friendship, work, and our inner relationships – the way we experience God and things of the spirit. We cannot live unrelated!

Jesus uses a similar banquet image to present the kingdom of God: a wedding feast, to which everyone is invited. Some will choose to decline the invitation; some will be so distracted with their own affairs that they will ignore the invitation; and some will simply take it for granted – like the person who turns up not dressed for the occasion. He receives what we might consider a harsh punishment, but Jesus is emphasising that though the invitation is open to all, and the banquet is without cost, you must choose to be part of it.

Accepting the invitation places you at the table with others! The wedding garment identifies the community. Not to wear it is to stand apart, to cut yourself off – to become unrelated! From what I’ve learned of our recent Synod, it is an empowering moment for the Church of Wellington: a definite call to place ourselves at the service of one another and the wider community, especially those at the outer edges. To be part of this is to be part of the banquet, where there is no mourning or weeping but only harmony and joy.

Homecoming is like that, too. Coming back into the fold, and feeling you belong there, carries a sense of harmony and joy – even if some things have changed while you were away.