All posts by Fr. James Lyons


HOMILY – 13TH SUNDAY [B] 2018                    Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24

The current euthanasia debate turns on the premise that no one really wants to die but, if death is inevitable, individuals should have the right to decide their own time of dying.  There might be some sense in this if we were just individuals, autonomous, disconnected from any other part of life.  But we are not.  As St Paul reminds us in one of his Letters, The life and death of each of us has its influence on others.  If we need any other reminder of our connectedness, we have only to reflect on the spontaneous reaction of horror and sympathy following the tragic head-on smash in Taranaki this week that claimed seven lives.

Our first reading today takes the approach that death does not come from God.  Death is not one of the gifts that radiate from God’s love – God takes no pleasure in the extinction of the living. [Wisdom 1:13] – so, where is the responsibility for death?  There are, in fact, two kinds of death: one is simply the natural process by which the cycle of life is maintained – leaves falling from the trees to become the nutrient for the continuing life of the forest; each season dying into the next; and our own human life span drawing us to an ending which, the gift of faith assures us, is only the beginning of greater life.

The other kind of death is the one we inflict on each other: brutal killings, irresponsible behaviour, warfare, greed for power and wealth that destroys the natural order.  We champion death when we disregard or abuse the dignity of others or their right to life; when we deny the care that will protect and enhance our environment or one another.

Jesus was laughed at when he said that a child everyone was convinced was dead, was only asleep.  He took her by the hand and told her to get up, and she did – and all were overcome with astonishment. [John 5:21-43]  Beyond that caring, respectful action of Jesus, is his message that life, like love, never comes to an end.  His whole mission was emphasising what we heard in the first reading that God did make (us) imperishable, he made (us) in the image of his own nature…  And that nature is Trinitarian, a giving, sharing, relating nature.

Jesus’ words to the community as he returned the girl to them: Give her something to eat, puts the responsibility for nourishment and for life on to others.  We are alive because of one another.  We only really die when we refuse to share.



Babies and young children have been in the news this week – from the death of an infant in Upper Hutt sparking a homicide enquiry, to the forcible removal of children from their parents in a political stand on migration, to the happier news of the birth of the Prime Minister’s first child.  The horror and sadness of child abuse; the delight and joy of new birth.  And, our Mass today coincides with the theme, as we honour another birth, John the Baptist – admittedly one of the great figures in the Christian faith – but still a child being born, weak, vulnerable, totally dependent on parental support.

For parents who love and care for their children, neglect and cruelty of little ones are hard to imagine or understand; when we see the little ones here at Mass or hear their laughter in the playground, we can’t believe they could be harmed in any way.

Also today, we welcome members of the Order of Malta which has St John the Baptist as its patron.  The Order is not well known here but its 900-year history is rich with service to the weak and vulnerable, the sick and disabled.  John the Baptist is the ideal patron for this service.  He stands at the crossroads between the faith of people awaiting a promised Messiah who would bring healing and strength – open the eyes of the blind and set the downtrodden free – and the fulfilment of that promise in Jesus, who gave himself to children and to the poor, to the sick and to sinners.

The adult John would baptise Jesus and John’s martyrdom would launch Jesus into his mission to reveal the presence of God in the ordinariness of human life, and especially where there is hurt or sorrow, weakness or injustice.  The Order of Malta continues this mission, with both international and local projects, like our own group’s initiative in providing winter coats and shelter for Wellington’s homeless.

“What will this child turn out to be?” the neighbours wondered, as the parents chose the name ‘John’ for their son – a name foreign to the family tradition… And we all wonder what children will become as we gaze on their uniqueness, and marvel at their potential.

I’m greatly disturbed that so many little ones know fear before they know joy, are victimised and blamed for behaviour not their own.  In the spirit of the Order of Malta, you and I can identify with the vulnerable, holding them in prayer, becoming active in their defence, contributing to their welfare, supporting social service efforts to help dysfunctional families.  Supporting the DCM book fair is a simple but practical way of helping.

Our Eucharistic Prayer today asks God to “open our eyes to the needs of our sisters and brothers”.  What do your eyes see?

What will our children, the children of our nation, or any nation, turn out to be?  I remember, years ago, a 12-year old answering the question, What do you want to be when you grow up?  He said, Alive!  I thought the answer strange, at the time.



HOMILY – 10 SUNDAY [B] 2018

My camping days are long over but I have great memories of summer nights under canvas at scout camps and on family holidays.  But for all the fun and adventure that filled those days we knew they had to end.  It was the tent that made that obvious.  The tent was just a temporary shelter.  It wasn’t our home.

St Paul makes this observation too, describing our life on earth as “tent-dwelling”.  The time will come, he says, for our tent to be folded up and taken home.  Linked to this is the image given in the first reading (Genesis) of God’s conversation with the “man” and the “woman” in the garden, and their consequent denial of responsibility: It wasn’t me who did wrong, they both say.

Camping out, under the canvas of God’s creation, excited by the new and fresh environment and the freedom given them to explore and discover, they mistakenly act as though they have permanent control rather than being only temporary residents.  Their failure to appreciate that everything they have is on loan; that they should be giving thanks rather than taking liberties, leaves them vulnerable to being manipulated, used and, ultimately, destroyed.

Let’s take another image.  This one comes from a British palliative care specialist, Dr Kathryn Mannix.  She points out that there are only two days with fewer than 24 hours in each life time: the day we’re born and the day we die.  They sit like bookends astride our lives.  One is celebrated every year, yet it is the other that makes us see living as precious.  [With the End in Mind, p.4]

Within those two shortened days we pitch our tent.  We are free to explore, to relate to others, to build friendships, to be part of a community, to use the natural world around us for our benefit.  We are not free to destroy one another, or ourselves, or the world around us; and, like good campers, we must try to leave the campsite in better condition than when we arrived.

What does it take to see living as precious?  If you’re like me, it probably takes a few mistakes, going down a wrong path or two, or letting pride dictate behaviour.  A 17-year old is starting a painting apprenticeship next month.  He said on radio this week he’d be in jail by now but for a training programme for troubled youth.  He suddenly sees living as precious.  I baptised a seriously ill woman in hospital last Thursday.  I don’t know why I didn’t accept this gift before, she told me.  Everything is so much clearer and more beautiful now.

We are tent dwellers, between two bookends of incomplete days.

Living is precious.

See it that way.



HOMILY – EASTER 5 [B] 2018                                                    [John 15:1-8]

The drinking culture in New Zealand has broadened over the last 30 years or so, and a taste for wine has taken hold.  Wine is proving itself productive in places formerly disregarded, like Central Otago and gravel pits in Hawkes Bay.

But much of the wine quality depends on the protection and care of the vines – their sturdiness and ability to cope with the toughest conditions.  Without the vine there can be no wine!  Jesus chose well in describing himself as the Vine.  We are the branches.  He is our starting point; he has broken through terrain and established firm roots, gifting life and energy to the branches, which in turn support the fruit.

And the fruit of the vine – the grapes we, the branches, are empowered to yield, come from the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control.  How does such fruit mature – very much like good wine.  There is more to winemaking than picking the grapes.  Much discernment is required to identify and select the right strains to create a wine that is unique yet complex.  Winemaking is a challenging craft that must take into account elements as diverse as the weather, temperature, soil, pruning, light and shade, timing the harvest…

In Jesus, the vine and the branches are the Church.  We are called to bring the differing characteristics of each branch into a community, working together.  We are people with different backgrounds and abilities, different ways of thinking and doing.  But our differences are not meant to hinder or threaten, but to be seen as gifts for blessing and bringing about a wonderful harvest.

Next Saturday afternoon you can come and experience the variety that makes us who we are.  The gift-discernment time will be your chance to identify the gift that is yours and which you might bring to the creation of a rich, powerful and beautifully complex wine – our community of faith.  Your gift will help mature one or more of the fruits that the Spirit brings through your branch.  Winemakers tell us that all the senses play a part in producing and enjoying wine.  So, ask yourself, what do love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control, smell like, taste like; how do they feel to touch; what do they sound like?

Think seriously about this and the identity and purpose of your gift will start to clarify.  I hope many of you will come next Saturday.  It is a way of thanking Jesus, the Vine, for wanting you to be part of him.  Gift yourself into the mix of a great vintage.



HOMILY – 4 EASTER [B] 2018                                        [John 10:11-18]

Three years ago, the cover story in National Geographic magazine named Mary, the Mother of Jesus, as “the most powerful woman in history”.  Most Christians would agree with that, but why would an international non-religious publication that draws subscriptions and sponsorship from the general public support such a claim?

It was Mary’s enduring influence in history, her universal appeal across diverse cultures, and the fact that she is the hope and comfort of so many people, including Muslims.  The Muslim appreciation of Mary caused the writer to propose that Mary is an ideal “bridge that ought to be explored” as the world struggles against the reality of extreme terror.

An endorsement for this view of Mary came last week when Pope Francis published his fourth major document, this one on holiness.  Titled, “Rejoice And Be Glad”, he hopes his words will renew in the whole Church the desire to become holy.  The Pope turns to Mary as the supreme model who “rejoiced in the presence of God, who treasured everything in her heart, and who let herself be pierced by the sword… She teaches us the way of holiness as she walks ever at our side.  She does not let us remain fallen and at times she takes us into her arms without judging us.” [GJ 177]

Rejoice and be Glad reminds us of the universal call to holiness, and today, Good Shepherd or Vocations Sunday, this timely announcement should shake each one of us to a conscious awareness that our primary goal or purpose in life is, in the words of Jesus, to become holy “as the Father is holy.” [

Don’t think holiness is an impossible dream or just for saints.  It is very reachable.  The road to holiness starts with an openness to love, and love grows with small steps.  Being on the lookout for ways of helping, for offering a little extra, going out of your way – these are stepping stones to holiness available to everybody.

Pope Francis points to some of the moments in the gospel story where by noticing a little detail a big difference was able to be made: the little detail that wine was running out at a party; that one sheep was missing.  Mary’s visit to be with her older cousin, Elizabeth, despite her own pregnancy and the difficult journey into the hill country – generous, loving human actions, no different from ones we can do ourselves – all steps to holiness.

Draw strength from our Eucharist to live your vocation to holiness this week, being alert to details as you walk through each day.  Walk alongside Mary, the most powerful woman in history.  Take her hand and follow her example of kindness.

The American author, Mark Twain, wrote, Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see!  Kindness is the language of holiness.  Speak it from your heart in everything you do.