Homily for Bishop Sir Paul Reeves
Glory be to God on high and peace to all God’s people.
There is something ever so slightly terrifying about being asked to offer this small reflection. It partly because Ta Paora was such a crafter of the written and spoken word. He was our exemplar. It is partly because these were not meant to be my words.
My suggestion was that Bishop Paul write this homily because he knew what he wanted to focus on. He agreed to this plan – he would write it and I would deliver it – and then the pace of the illness took over and when I asked to discuss his thoughts he simply said it is over to you Philip. When I tried to suggest he might like to choose someone else, he got a little definitive and told me to just “do it. “
Preach the Gospel at all times and if you have to, use words.
Although as I have already said, Bishop Paul was a crafter of words; effortlessly illuminating quite complex issues, or making powerful points with story and humour, the essence of his faith, this Gospel he commends to us, is found not in his words but in his life, in who he has been for us.
His life has proclaimed a simple but demanding message.
That I am utterly, profoundly, unconditionally and unreservedly loved, and so are you and so is every other living being. It is in this simple truth that our dignity as human beings (and the integrity of the whole creation) resides. We are created in love, we are redeemed by love and we are called to love.
There are demanding consequences of that simple proclamation and we see those consequences worked out in the life of this faithful disciple of Christ.
The consequences are that we must work tirelessly for justice, for peace and for righteousness. It begins with the simple things…
Bishop Paul treated each person he met with the same value, with the same respect, with the same genuine interest – he lived that simple truth that every person he met was beloved of God and must be treated as such – with deep and genuine respect, as being of ultimate value. I have experienced the impact of that time and time again over the past few weeks, as people, the great and the ordinary have a story to tell of some contact they had with him – the young woman on the plane … Simply Paul recognised in each person another soul loved by God.
This was the basis of his commitment to seeking a just and equitable society. This commitment was nurtured by this gospel of human dignity and is rooted in our common heritage as children of God.
The scandal of course is that so many people do not experience lives of dignity, of safety, of simple happiness and joy. The scandal is that our actions, our greed, our selfishness, our anger, our hatred robs both the innocent and the perpetrator alike of that dignity which is their right and their inheritance as children of God. In the face of all of that what is the power that can transform and redeem?
Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity. By its very nature, hate destroys and tears down; by its very nature love creates and builds up. Love transforms with redemptive power. (Martin Luther King).
So this is the challenge of love, this world is no waiting room but the construction site for a new community, a community that is created when we live by the precepts of love, justice, peace and righteousness.
Paul consistently worked for justice and peace, working to reconcile the conflicted, to create an environment where opposing positions felt listened to and so might begin to listen to each other. He sought, in his own words to stand astride fault lines in our communities and encourage dialogue. This quest for peaceable ways through conflict was in his DNA, reaching back to his tupuna – understand the significance of these white feathers of Parihaka, but these peaceable ways were shaped and nurtured by the gospel of Jesus Christ and ultimately are rooted in the simple truth – that I am loved, and so are you and so is every other human being. It is a whole different frame of reference. Not retribution but redemption, not revenge but restoration. Looking for the best, believing in the best, refusing to be deterred by human frailty and sinfulness.
Now this is a topsy turvey community which believes that in the face of contemporary values with its rampant self centredness;
- loving is more important than winning
- that being vulnerable and genuinely open to others is more important than having power and
- that setting someone free to find the best in themselves is better than managing or controlling peoples lives.
Power expressed in self giving, status reflected in servant hood, paradoxical values yet the only ones on which true community can be built. Paul worked tirelessly for this kind of community.
So behind all that Paul has done, all that he is is this simple Christian understanding that
We are called to love one another, for love is of God and whoever loves is born of God and knows God. In this we find our identity and our dignity.
Another aspect of this love is that it will not and cannot let us go, it will not and cannot abandon us. As Christians we are confident that this love transcends all things even death.
One of the truly beautiful aspects of these difficult past weeks has been the abiding sense of being held in the presence of God, not withstanding those moments of natural anxiety, Paul our bishop and our brother, had a strong sense of being held, being strengthened and resourced for this part of his journey.
Surrounded by those he loved and who loved him dearly – and what a love you have, what a truly extra-ordinary family you are .. you strong remarkable Reeves women, and those who love you and those born out of your love.
If the measure of the greatness of this man ultimately comes down to the quality of the love that you have for him and he for you – then this man is truly great. If goodness is in some way measured in the quality of love found in his most intimate relationships then he was a truly good man.
That love is not and cannot be broken by death. That love has its beginning and its end in God. God will not and does not let us go.
We honour this son of Parihaka,
This son of the Church,
This builder of real and just community
This friend, this grandfather, this father,
This beloved Child of God,
marked by your baptism a disciple of Christ.
Rest in peace
Aware of the fact that Bishop Philip Richardson (Taranaki, N.Z.) was mentored by Archibshop Paul Reeves, during his sojourn at St. John’s College, Auckland – where Philip and I were fellow students in the later 1970’s – I was interested to read this lovely Homily, which Sir Paul himself during his final illness, commissioned. Originally, as Philip says, Sir Paul was to provide the gist of the homily, while Philip was to deliver the same. However, in the event, Sir Paul entrusted the whole content to Philip; whose account here, of the life and ministry of this beloved New Zealand Church Leader is securely anchored in the Gospel charisma.
Sir Paul – both as Archbishop of ACANZP and as Governor-General of New Zealand in his latter years – was a walking, talking paradigm of the values of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His tireless energies, as a profoundly prayerful and God-centred priest and bishop of the Anglican Church in New Zealand, led him into many areas of social and public life. He never saw his latter role as Governor-General as in any way conflicting with his primary vocation as a priest in the Church of God – and, in fact, he expressed this reality before his death.
As one of the Bishops interested and involved in the education of the clergy at St. John’s College, Bishop Paul was keen that future priests were well equipped to forward the work of justice in the Church as well as in the local community. His later championship of women and the LGBT community found voice in meetings around the country, where his godly wisdom and love of people were often taken to heart by both the liberal and the conservative wings of the Church. His love of Christ in the Eucharist was obvious to those who knew him well, and the Lord who has called him home will recognise him as a diligent and faithful advocate of the sacramental life of the Church that was at the heart of his ministry and mission.
Before ordaining me, as a former Franciscan brother and a late-vocation priest in Christ Church, Whangarei, in 1981, Archbishop Paul commended me to ‘give everything to your priesthood, that it might prove worthwhile’. Indeed, he was an impressive mentor.
May he rest in Peace and rise one day with Christ in Glory. Amen.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand