Category Archives: Homilies

Cardinal John’s Homily – 3rd Sunday of Lent

3rd Sunday of Lent:

Today’s Gospel seems very harsh…Jesus gives a warning ‘unless you repent, you will all perish’ He was not giving a threat …he was speaking of God’s love and patience.

Part of today’s Gospel is chillingly like what happened in Christchurch…it’s almost the story of a terrorist  attack that we have heard so much about in these last day.  The Roman official, Pontius Pilate, had sent troops into the Temple in Jerusalem to brutally wipe out a small group of Galilean pilgrims who had gone down to Jerusalem, ‘mingling their blood with their sacrifices’, it has some dreadful similiarities to the Mosque attacks.

He used another and spoke of the tragedy where eighteen people had been crushed to death when a tower in the city’s old wall had suddenly collapsed on top of them.

Hearing of these calamities, Jesus asked: “why did these dreadful things occur?” Was it because the people who lost their lives were terrible sinners, worse than other people?

There was a view among Jews, which is not unknown among believers even today, that disasters are a punishment from God for sinful behaviour. That is not so.

When Jesus commented on the sudden massacre in the temple and the accidental crushing to death of people by the collapsing tower, he was making it clear that this was not because of their sins……. that was not the point. He was saying was that the victims of the atrocity in the Temple and the disaster of the tower’s collapse meant they had all died suddenly and without having the opportunity to repent and make their peace with God. I am not saying that about the people in the Mosques.

To help his listeners Jesus told a parable  … The owner of a garden had a fig tree, but year after year he never found any fruit. In frustration and exasperation the owner told the gardener to cut the tree down: it wasn’t bearing fruit, it was taking up good space. But the gardener asked his boss to give the tree one more year …… ‘If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down’. In other words, the gardener said, “give it one more chance.”

It’s the same with God, God never gets tired of giving us another chance. This is about God’s patience with us.

God’s patience with us is God’s decision to show us respect, and allow us ‘space and time’ to develop and grow. There is no limit to God’s patience with each of us. There is no limit to God’s patience, but there is to the space and time we have to keep turning back and focussing on God. There are endless opportunities for us to profit from God’s patience;

When this Gospel was written it was to help and encourage believers who might have sinned seriously to turn back to the Lord and be reconciled with the community in preparation for Easter; that’s the purpose in Jesus’s saying ‘repent or perish’.

So, today we review our Lenten programme, and think about how we have been able to keep up with whatever prayer, penance or good works we decided on for Lent. If we have slipped, for whatever reason, there is nothing to prevent us from starting now, starting again.

The prayer for today is highly appropriate too: ‘Father, you have taught us to overcome our sins by prayer, fasting and works of mercy. When we are discouraged by our weakness, give us confidence in your love.’  Any of us can be disappointed with our weaknesses, we have to learn to be patient with ourselves too.

Maybe at this stage of Lent – halfway through- we might have to admit that this Lent is not all we had hoped for.  On Ash Wednesday, we intended to make some changes in our lives, now we might be disappointed in ourselves.

Jesus “gets” us, understands our hearts and knows that our instinct is to give up when the tree bears no fruit.  Today we learn not to give up  the hope that we can be better.

A good question to ask God is, “What is it you want to give me this Lent?”    Such a question could lead to heart to heart conversation with God …..

What is it you desire to free in my heart so I can love better?
How can I be more loving to my family? 
Where can I be a peacemaker with my children, with others?
How do you want to soften my heart from being harsh with others to being more loving – in the way you have loved me?
How can I be less judgmental and see others as you see them?
What would it cost me to slow down my life so I can listen to you more deeply?

When I fast, it can focus my attention more clearly on Jesus and how he wants to heal my heart.

Lent is what Pope Francis calls, “a journey of preparation, preparation to know God the gift of God’s patience and mercy.


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.



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…




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.