FAREWELL – BUT NOT TO MISSION [6th Sunday [C] –17 Feb. 2019]
Leaving a parish is not too much different from arriving in one. Both are occasions for anxiety. The priest or lay leader will feel nervous at the beginning because almost everything and everyone have yet to be met. Fr Doug feels that right now; Debbie, not so much anymore. Nerves again start to bite when the time comes to leave because almost everything and everyone that lies ahead are unknown or at least unfamiliar. And that’s where I am.
The gospel passage we’ve just heard follows immediately after Jesus names his 12 apostles. The moment signals an end to the life they’ve known without Jesus, and the beginning of a time with Jesus but shrouded in mystery. And, as they step into this “unknown”, they hear Jesus pronounce blessings on all the things they were not expecting to be part of their life with him.
They’d had secure livelihoods and didn’t want to be poor, but Jesus is blessing the poor; they’d enjoyed good meals, but Jesus blesses the hungry; the last thing they want is to be sad, yet they hear Jesus blessing those who weep!
Of course, Jesus is not condemning riches, food or laughter; these are good in themselves and Jesus enjoyed them all. He’s warning though that, when we have these things in abundance, it becomes easy to forget God, or to act as though we don’t need God – or, in the words of Sir Humphry from that delightful British comedy, Yes Prime Minister, God becomes “an optional extra”
I have been richly blessed during these 11 years at SH Cathedral Parish; food and laughter have accompanied me in all my visits and times with you. They have not drawn me away from God, because they are reflections of your faith and your love. I am aware of my poverty at the times when I am not able to adequately meet your need, or ease your doubt, or comfort your grief. There is poverty and there is blessing in accepting you can’t do everything.
I feel the weakness that hunger brings when I cannot stem the flow of people away from Sunday Mass; when I hold the Bread of Life in my hands but am aware that fewer people want to share it. I hunger for people to more fully discover the wonder and beauty of the Eucharist. But I know my call is to serve. There is hunger and there is blessing in knowing yourself as servant, not master.
Blessed are those who weep – who feel the suffering of others, who understand weakness because they know they are themselves weak; I weep for the goals I have not reached, for the example I have not given. But I also know the blessing of laughter, for I have been helped by your honesty, your positive criticism and your faithfulness – to laugh at myself; not to take myself too seriously, and not to take for granted the riches in my life. To be blessed in this way is to be truly blessed.
It is with these blessings that I move into a new phase of my life. The “unknown” will unfold as it has always done. Among you I have been, as Jeremiah puts it in the first reading, like a tree by the waterside, with my roots in the stream of your friendship and loving support. I know Fr Doug and Debbie will find themselves in this same stream, so there’s no need for any of us to be afraid.
And then there is the stream into which we are all called – to be rooted and to grow in the waters of God’s love and kindness – to be a forest of faithfulness – putting our trust in God and letting the breeze of the Holy Spirit move through our branches, uniting us in the work of proclaiming the gospel of peace.
That remains our mission, wherever we are.
SOMEDAY AT CHRISTMAS – A CELEBRATION OF HOPE
HOMILY – 4 ADVENT [C] 2018
Radio cricket commentators talk a lot. They have to. There is no place for silence on radio; no pictures to fill any gaps. Even so, the constant cricket talk got to me on Monday and I switched programmes. I think I was meant to, because there was an interview with a Year 12 Papatoetoe High School student, Silika Isaia. This very talented singer had been invited to perform a Christmas song and she chose a Stevie Wonder composition, Someday at Christmas.
Someday at Christmas men won’t be boys
Playing with bombs like kids play with toys
One warm December our hearts will see
a world where people are free.
Someday at Christmas there’ll be no wars
When we have learned what Christmas is for
When we have found what life’s really worth
There’ll be peace on earth.
Someday all our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where people are free
Maybe not in time for you and me
But someday at Christmas time.
Our first reading names the place where the promised One would be born: Bethlehem. It’s the prophecy later quoted to Herod when he heard there were royal visitors looking for the new born King of the Jews. It terrified him that he might have a rival. Bethlehem was not a name that gave him hope. Herod is that part of each of us that puts self on the top shelf. Nothing and no one can get in the way.
The gospel gives us the meeting between Mary and Elizabeth – a picture of calm celebration, despite it being for them a time of deep uncertainty. Mary is still grappling with the circumstances of her pregnancy; the hill country she travels through does not guarantee safety. Yet her concern for her elder cousin, together with her dignity and faith, has Elizabeth proclaiming: Of all women you are the most blessed. – a proclamation of hope.
Someday at Christmas man will not have failed
Hate will be gone and love will prevail
There’ll be a new world that we can start
With hope in every heart.
Someday at Christmas there’ll be no tears
When all people are equal and none have fears
One shining moment, one prayer away
From our world today.
Is what we are yearning for – peace and togetherness – is it just a prayer away? Then what’s stopping us?
Mary, Elizabeth and the others we meet in the Christmas story were very ordinary people, but they show a deep level of trust – and a willingness to accept what for the moment doesn’t make much sense – that impels them well beyond their individual talents.
The cricket was washed out, but Christmas stays through all weathers, giving us chance after chance. There is wonder and hope in this most incredible story: the God of all creation becoming one of us! Just as every birth rekindles hope in humanity, every Christmas tells us that the world is not lost, and neither are we.
Hold that hope. Someday at Christmas…
CHRISTMAS MEETS OUR HUMAN HUNGER
HOMILY – 3rd SUNDAY ADVENT – 2018 [C]
When Air New Zealand engineers and other staff signalled a three-day strike starting tomorrow, one week before Christmas, tragic consequences were immediately obvious. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, would likely miss out on a long-anticipated family reunion. Christmas would be empty for many.
The strike is not happening, but I caught a glimpse of what a strike would have made very unlikely yesterday, travelling back from Auckland after visiting my 99-year old aunt. The passenger next to me had just arrived from a long-haul flight from her home in Holland. She was coming to be with her family in Wellington. She was very tired but very excited. She had not seen her son and daughter for a few years and had yet to meet some of her grandchildren.
The welcome she was given at the gate was amazing. She was engulfed in hugs and kisses; children’s drawings were held high. It was as though they had the whole terminal to themselves. Nothing else mattered but a family united.
This is the call coming out from our third Sunday of Advent: cry out with joy and gladness. I witnessed it yesterday; it’ll be repeated through the coming days as families gather, celebrating each other, creating new memories.
Here’s another approach: a little boy outside a supermarket announced in a loud voice, Mum, I’m hungry! His mother said, We’ll be home soon and you can eat then. And the boy replied, quite agitated, But I’m hungry now! It might have been the smell of food around him, but he was certainly anxious to be fed. There was a sense of urgency in his cry and I found myself thinking about the wider implications of hunger. What do you and I hunger for?
The grandmother arriving from Holland hungered for her family; St Paul in the second reading today, hungers for the happiness of his people. We all need more than bodily food, we need the food that makes life worthwhile.
When the people ask John the Baptist, What must we do? he says, share what you have with others. Jesus would later build on that and say, hunger and thirst for what is just and right and good. To be given and to give food of welcome and acceptance and tolerance – this really is the heart of our yearning, for it opens the path to Bethlehem – the world’s first real encounter with joy and gladness.
HOMILY – CHRIST THE KING – [A] 2018
What would you like to ask God? That question was put to a group of under ten-year olds. They were given time to think and then asked to write down their question. Here are some of them:
- 7-year old: How many miracles have you done in your life?
- 5-year old: When can I have the wine?
- 4-year old: How do you feel when somebody falls over?
- 5 years: What do you do in the rain?
- Three nine-year olds: Why do sins happen?
- How does prayer get up to you? Do you love me?
Wonderful, thoughtful, challenging questions. They show an easy relationship with God – a personal connection, and also a deepening faith. The older ones starting to think more deeply: Why do sins happen?
Everyone has questions. We’re created to ask why and what and where and who and how. Life is lived from question to question. Mostly we ask questions of those we can trust; those who’ll take us seriously and won’t make fun of us because our questions seem simple or silly. We learn by questioning. And nearly all our questions have to do with finding our way in life: What’s my life about? What’s it for? Where’s it going?
Pilate has a question for Jesus: Are you the king of the Jews? It’s a serious, probing question from a mind filled with anxiety, uncertainty: Who is this Jesus? Why is he causing such division? Why is he not afraid? Why am I so troubled about this case? Pilate’s restlessness allows Jesus to identify himself. He takes Pilate’s question seriously and answers clearly: Yes, I am a king!
But Pilate can’t get much further. His understanding of kingship is modelled on his own culture where power is strength, not weakness. So he can only conclude that Jesus is deluded. He feels sorry for him, but he can’t help him.
What questions do you have for Jesus? Especially relating to his claim to be king. Whatever you’re asking, you’ll find answers right here in our Eucharist: the faith we share in Jesus, and his presence in our midst; his compassion and mercy, urging us to go from here to love and to serve, all point the way to a joy and fulfilment that cannot be found anywhere else. This time together is our centring point. In terms of confidence, trust and hope, we can do no better than respect the bond of our communion with one another.
You and I have the advantage over Pilate, because we know more of the story. We know the followers of Jesus were so convinced he came back to life after his crucifixion, that they overcame their fear to spread that conviction throughout the known world. They gave their own lives for that belief! All that must mean something!
The children’s questions, simple and honest, came out of their own young life experience. They really wanted to know. You and I are older. Can we be as honest as the children and only ask because we really want to know? You ask such questions only of those whose love and tenderness you trust, because your heart tells you you’ll never have any need to fear the answers.