Category Archives: Homilies



HOMILY – 20th SUNDAY [B] 2018                                 [John 6:51-58]

Thank you!  Two small words.  But they can mean the world.  They spring from my heart today as I thank you for the great support I’ve received following recent hip surgery – and also for the way you have worked and stayed together to minimise the effect of our cathedral closure.  Thank you!  These two small words are the fruit of grateful hearts.

Gratefulness is both gentle and powerful.  It has a life-force that unites and consoles, softens what was hardened through neglect or oversight and can return joy that’s been stolen by pain or sorrow.

Gratefulness should be the main reason why we come together in worship.   We know that the word Eucharist means to give thanks, so our very presence here is a meeting with the wonder of thanksgiving.  God, through Jesus, says thank you to us, and we say thank you for the gift that is Jesus.

The last few Sundays have been taking us through the long discussion between Jesus and his Jewish audience over his claim to be the bread come down from heaven.  He is talking of himself as the bread of life and that unless this bread is eaten there is no life.  The teaching is difficult for his listeners, and even today there is dispute over what Jesus meant.

Our Catholic tradition is very clear that Jesus is truly present in the bread and in the wine that is shared among us.  Do you and I fully appreciate that reality? Our lives cannot but be changed through this encounter with the living bread and the cup of salvation.  Yet it remains mystery.  That’s why we should focus on thanksgiving – thanking God for being able to believe in this mystery; thanking God for the gift of Jesus and the nourishment he brings to our individual lives and to our community.  If we come giving thanks, we will leave with a joy strong enough to carry us through every challenge.

Last week I was in Auckland for the funeral of a niece – a sad and difficult farewell to a cancer victim of just 50 years.  A special moment in the service for Cheryl was the tribute given by her 13-year old son, Sam.  He spoke a beautiful thank you.  Thank you, Mum, for giving me life.  Thank you for loving me and making me feel special every day.  You are leaving me too soon, but I have a life full of memories and you are in every one of them.  I will love you forever.  Thank you, Mum.

The service for Cheryl was not a Mass.  But Sam’s tribute made it a powerful Eucharist.


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.




Why do you give?  Why do I give?  Why does anyone give anything at all?  The answer, I know, is pretty obvious.  It is impossible not to give.  We are born to give.  It’s in our DNA.  A gift might acknowledge affection, or gratitude.  It could be given to create a memory, or even an obligation.  The ultimate gift is the gift of self, and I witnessed that gift last weekend in the marriage of my niece.  Kathryn and Stephen, like so many of you, gave themselves to each other with the promise they intend to hold the gift in trust as long as they both live.

Gift-giving comes naturally to humans, but the practice is much older than humanity, with its origin in the One who said, before anything else was: Let there be light – and gave life to everything, displaying that life with the brilliance of colour and the wonder of variety.

The parish received a gift this week – the long-awaited, but still verbal, engineering report on the earthquake status of our Cathedral.  It carried news of a problem with the roofing structure.  We will probably have to close the Cathedral for the strengthening work to be done but, in the meantime, there is no restriction on access.  You are free to make your own decision about being here.  We will have further details when the written report arrives.

While we may not welcome this particular gift, it does come at a good time – as we reassess our own personal level of gifting to the parish.  117 years ago, the Catholics in this city gifted this church to their community and to future generations.  It replaced the original cathedral on this site, gifted by the first settlers; 30 years ago, the parish community gifted further beauty, with the addition of the chapel, the foyer and Connolly Hall.

At a later date we’ll hear how we can send the gift of this Cathedral forward into the next generations, strengthened and refurbished, but today we begin by checking how we can share from our own personal resources, to keep the parish vibrant and relevant in this largely secular city.  As priest I have always been reluctant to talk about money – but even the apostles had to accept its necessity for pastoral survival.  Today’s newsletter carries the first of some printed information to help your understanding of our situation and to assist your personal response.

Today is also Mothers’ Day when we especially remember and honour each of those who have given themselves in motherhood.  Gifting the world with new life and nurturing that life, often at great personal cost, can only come from a loving heart.  Motherhood – a gift to cherish and protect above all else.

We speak of the Church as Mother: called to be a welcoming, safe haven, with a heart for compassion and mercy, with an unconditional love, a centre for peace and healing.  Perhaps that’s the best focus for you and I as we think about how best to support our parish.  If we want Sacred Heart Cathedral Parish to reflect qualities of motherhood, we each have to gift from ourselves to enable this to happen.

Gift-giving is part of our nature.  When our gifts contribute to life and support community, they are helping us to meet our commitments to the God who called us into a partnership – to care for one another and the creation of which we are a part.  In this regard, there is a mothering instinct in each of us.  Now is the time to let it shine.