All posts by Fr. James Lyons



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.




HOMILY – 5 LENT [B] 2018

Did you hear the warning this week about the threat of plastic bags to marine life? Apparently, if nothing’s done to clean up the mess, by 2050 the weight of plastic in the world’s oceans will outweigh all the fish!

News like this fuels the “carbon footprint” argument that we humans are polluting the earth at an intolerable rate, to the point where numbers of young people are increasingly pessimistic about the future. They feel their presence only adds to the problem, and that they shouldn’t have been born.

An appropriate thought for this stage of Lent. There’s a sense of foreboding in the words of Jesus as he speaks of the dark times ahead – giving us the image of the wheat grain that must die in the darkness and isolation of the soil, if it’s ever to find its fulfilment in harvest.

What starts as a negative – death of the seed – is shown to have positive results – a great harvest. Life, death, life flow in a natural rhythm. There’s confusion when some Greeks ask to see Jesus. Their request catches the apostles unprepared and they have to consult before they pass these newcomers on to Jesus: did he mean his message for Greeks? Didn’t they have their own religion? What are they up to? Can they be trusted?

I think the challenge to the apostles was, did they want to share Jesus? They had a tight little group. Racially and culturally they were united. Let’s keep it that way! None of us want to lose what we value. Those who feel they’re contributing to global warming and other pollution simply because they’re alive, don’t really want to die – they’re caught by their sense of helplessness in the face of global problems beyond their influence or control. The apostles, and you and I who follow Jesus, can feel comfortable in the ritual and practice we know and appreciate, and want to keep things that way. But also like the apostles, we must see ourselves as seeds, sent to be sown – buried alive, not dead! To quote Mahatma Gandhi: To find yourself you have to lose yourself, and when you lose yourself you find yourself fulfilled.

The “positive” to all this appears if you remove concern about the “footprint” you might be leaving on the ecosystem, and look at what your hands can do: weeding, planting, reaping, harvesting, embracing, comforting, holding, affirming… It is the work of human hands that we lift to God, that meet the requirements of the partnership role we’ve each been given. If my footprint scars the earth and stamps out life, my handprint can hold and heal and join me more firmly to life.

God speaks to our hearts – our instincts and feelings. Intellect and intelligence are not God’s primary concern. Jeremiah (1st Reading: J 31:31-34) makes this clear – I will plant my law, writing it on their hearts – and they will be my people and I will be their God. It’s our experience of love – the realm of the heart – that directs faith and motivates the desire to belong and to contribute.

Our throwaway world, symbolised by plastic, threatens life because it doesn’t care. By learning to read the law written on your heart, any hesitation to serve and to give disappears, because you discover a community with so many others. Heart and hand together guarantee sowing and reaping, helping those fearful of tomorrow to be convinced they can make something of today.


HOMILY – 4 LENT [B] 2018

I went into a room to get something during the week and then couldn’t remember what I was going to get. I did remember a few minutes later and went back and got it! The situation fitted perfectly something I heard not so long ago – that when older people go into a room, forget what they came for and have to go back later, it’s God’s way of making sure older people get exercise!

But, of course, we all have moments of forgetfulness, and moments of discovery.

Anyone who searches begins with a sense of loss – of not being able to find something, or of knowing something’s missing but perhaps not being able to say exactly what it is. The loss creates a gap that’s quickly filled with darkness. Maybe you’re floundering round over some puzzle or trying to understand someone’s motivation for a certain action… When the answer comes you’re likely to say, How could I not see it? How could I have been so blind?

The biggest loss, the one that hurts the most, is the loss that death creates. A loved one dies and you feel no light could ever pierce the darkness that surrounds and smothers you. The loss of a loved one is, in many ways, the loss of yourself.

People drawn to search for faith do not all search in the dark. Some have light to guide them. They know their life means something; they can see faith in others – and that can often cause them to seek faith for themselves. They know their life could be more fulfilled and they seek a stronger connection with a community of believers. Some seekers have come to recognize the darkness they’ve been living in for the emptiness it really is. They’ve mistaken the dark for light, believing the myth that the more you can make, the more you possess, the more powerful or independent you are, the happier you will be; or, the least responsibility you accept the freer you will be to enjoy life. That’s the cruelest darkness; it lets you pretend.

Nicodemus chose the dark of night to meet with Jesus. He was afraid and embarrassed to be seen with him. But Jesus shared with him the heart of his message -that God so loved the world that he gave his only son – and those who believe in him will have eternal life! Jesus’ mission was not to condemn or destroy but to affirm and build up. He did not come to make us feel guilty but to discover the freedom that forgiveness brings, the joy of friendship and the happiness of working together – being community.

Those who come to faith come along paths unique to themselves, and they join a community equally diverse. But they feel they have arrived home, just like Nicodemus, comfortable with themselves…


The only way to defeat the dark is to become the light. – Walt Disney film: The Wrinkle Line