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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.

The Cathedral Connection 15 October 2017

The full newsletter can be viewed here.
The Parish Delegates Synod 17 Reflection insert can be viewed here.


My time away from the parish over these past six weeks could not have been possible without the cheerful assistance of several people willing to share themselves and their time. Fr Ron and Fr Soane from Otari Parish and Fr Jim Dooley from Marist Centre enabled the schedule of Masses to continue and stepped in to cover emergencies. Our parish secretary, Frank Doherty, supported by music director, Michael Fletcher, kept the office humming beautifully and our newly appointed Lay Pastoral Leader, Fiona Rammell, gave wonderful service.

This combination of talent and commitment gave me the security to relax and enjoy a great holiday, and I am very grateful for the opportunity. I’m also grateful that you, dear parishioners, kept turning up! That speaks so positively for the leadership you experienced. Thank you, everyone!

So much of significance occurred during my absence and I shall reflect a little on that in my homily today. But, looking ahead, I want to encourage you to prepare for our response to Pope Francis’ invitation to spend time with Sacred Scripture – specifically in the Masses of 28-29 October.

There will be only one Reading in that Sunday Mass, the Gospel [Matthew 22:34-40] and we will spend time together listening to it and uncovering its message for each of us. The technique is known as Lectio Divina, with emphasis on truly hearing the Word of God, letting that Word settle within me, drawing me to realise its relevance for my life as a follower of Christ.

Remember that Scripture is the living Word of God and as such is pulsating, dynamic, energising. By opening heart and mind to its influence, it can guide, challenge, comfort and renew both personal and community life. Prepare by reading the whole chapter [Matthew 22]. Using a Bible in your first language might be even more profitable. More on this next week.

Thank you for your love and support. It is good to be back home.

Fr James

Wellington Central Pastoral Area Newsletter 27 August 2017

The full newsletter can be viewed here.


Last week most of those who read the Scripture at the Cathedral, the Proclaimers of the Word, met for a brief  “Refresher” programme.  As they talked about their ministry, listened to one another read, and reflected on our shared belief in the presence of Jesus in the “breaking open of the Word”, I felt extremely grateful for the way parishioners across our Pastoral  Area offer themselves for leadership roles.  We are very well served, both in the formal Liturgy and in pastoral service.


In the years I have been associated with our central city parishes, I’ve seen a developing awareness that we each have to contribute from our gifts for the good of all.  I find I am meeting a greater willingness among you to be involved.

This awareness brings a sense of ownership and a greater number are now accepting responsibility for growing the community.  I thank you most sincerely for this, and welcome your partnership.  The  appointment of Fiona Rammell as Lay Pastoral Leader at the Cathedral, like Mary-Anne Peetz at Otari  before her, further endorses this “shared responsibility” and points to a positive and active future.

A natural consequence of this involvement is to extend service to meet needs not our own.  I think we are ready to do this.  This week’s Maori Pastoral Care appeal is such an opportunity.  The concerns here may not directly match those of our Pastoral Area, but commitment to the Body of Christ will dictate a generous response.  Regardless of who or where we are, our “change” can change lives, for truth, justice and love.

As part of my own thanksgiving for 50 years of priesthood, I am holidaying over the next six weeks – a time to reconnect with friends not seen for a long time and to “refresh” my own energy for service.  Let us keep each other in prayer, and may our good work apparent in our blessed variety of service continue to thrive.

Fr James

The full newsletter can be viewed here.



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.



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.