Fr John’s Reflection – 3rd Sunday of Easter

3rd Sunday of Easter – 26th April

Were not our hearts burning within us?

In this age of social distancing and the difficulty in gathering as a community in prayer, we have often become the smallest of communities travelling in pairs. There is something important about sharing time with another and listening to our own stories and expectations. So often our prayer can seem like an internal dialogue with myself which can create the impression that I am just talking to myself. This can be especially prevalent when we are socially isolated from each other. We need somebody to listen to us to share our concerns, worries, dreams and hopes. In allowing what is inside to emerge in our conversations we start to feel less alone and we can start to work out what is true to ourselves and what can be created by our own fears. There is a need to have a person who we can walk with who can share the pilgrimage with us. 

The unusual element to this is that when we take this as a prayerful encounter a hidden stranger comes to accompany us. A person who truly listens to what most deeply concerns us and who meets us where we are on our journey. Yet this is not just a silent presence. In this environment, we can be drawn deeper to discover how our story becomes part of a greater story. The acknowledgement that each person is called to be a part of this story and that we are called into a deeper sense of encounter with God.

Especially when we seem to be in times when Churches are closed and it is possible to think that we are walking away from what is familiar and comforting, Jesus still sits down with us and breaks bread. In many cases, this may be through the virtual participation in Masses and a sense where we are in communion even though we cannot see or hear the other people we normally participate with. It helps us to see that our hunger is not just for receiving communion but being in communion. This longing which seeks to share the life of the person who gathers us into a relationship with God who is at the centre of everything. As we have this time where we start to know where our hearts burn within us with a deep desire for Eucharist we also form a deep desire to be together in prayer, to have the scriptures broken open for us and to see Christ in each other. Even for myself when I celebrate Mass it is this anticipation that feeds me not just with the Bread of Life but with the deeper hunger that Jesus calls me into a life-giving relationship which sustains us in communion. In this midst of the prayers we hope for this deeper longing to become a new Pentecost for us.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 2nd Sunday of Easter

2nd Sunday of Easter – 19th April

In the upper room

The period of Easter opens up to surprises and to new life. The very experience of spending large parts of our time at home for fear of the COVID 19 virus gives us more time than we would have expected in reflecting on the direction of life. What brings us meaning and who do we pin our hopes on? In a time when political leaders and medical experts seek to advise us on ways of looking after each other, we are also called to ponder what brings meaning to our lives.
Just as when the disciples locked themselves in the upper room out of fear, Jesus came and stood among them offering peace and the gift of forgiveness. He called upon them to not be afraid. In an age where we often rely on seeing is believing, we can stand with Thomas who insisted that he would not believe unless he touched the Lord’s wound and experienced his very presence. Much of the similar commentary can come to us in these post-Easter times. How do we know what is real and what can sustain us? In many cases, it seems as though we have to fall back on our own resources and our own creativity to connect with God and with each other. This is especially true where our usual union with a sacramental life is socially distant from us and can be seen but not touched. This loss of touch is a profound separation when we realise how much of our life is nurtured by our connection with each other. We often rely on that face to face contact which engages all the senses. The difficulty even of connecting online is that we miss the smell, the taste and touch of being in another’s presence. This is why so many meals have been a common form of celebration because it is not just focussed on the food we eat but on the company we share. 

Thus, in these times of isolation, we need to discover how to connect with each other which makes good use of zoom or other social media. This is not just about seeing and hearing but trying to make it a more sensual environment which draws in a common activity which we can share. This may take some organising to share similar food at a similar time. To taste, smell and be in touch with a common experience. I know some now have virtual celebrations where while separated they can share time together. Others are sharing music, have exercise classes, prayer time and meditations. These ways of connecting allow the physical walls to be penetrated by others who care about us and who we are called to share our lives with. In many ways, it reminds me of the appearances of Jesus which occurred almost simultaneously around the world. He was able to be present to many people in different ways at the same time. This may be one of the blessings of this time. Our ability to connect and our desire to be present has never been greater. Also, when we have time on our hands, we move the emphasis from just our work to our reason for gathering which enables us to work closely together. This may be a time where two or three virtually gathered together notice that Jesus is present in their midst.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday – 12th April

Who do we stake our life on?

When our lives are turned upside down and our usual activities are disrupted, we can wonder what on earth is happening? The COVID 19 outbreak has impacted on many of the things we take for granted: popping over to see friends, enjoying a pleasant meal, watching our favourite movie at a local cinema or even gathering to play sport. Yet the more immediate impact is how we work and care for each other. The fact that many people have shifted to carry out everyday activities in the home can bring unique challenges. The reality is that the home has become not just a place to live in, but a place to work, to learn and to socialise with those in the household. The reality is now there is no distance between these separate activities and it can take a certain amount of renegotiation to recognise the times that we engage with each of these different activities. This calls for a good level of communication for things which were often part of our daily routine which called us to be elsewhere but now call us to be here in this place together with those who share our household space.

We are also called to pray and reflect with each other. Our life is not just determined by what we do but who we become in our doing. This way of becoming is not easy with immediate pressures of maintaining a household and responding to financial pressures. The last thing that we can feel that we have time for is doing what appears to not produce immediate responses to pressing need. Yet how we are present to God, to each other and ourselves has never been more important especially during this week where we celebrate the Paschal Mystery. While there is a social distance between time and space these events have a pivotal impact on who we are called into a relationship with.

As we walk through this Holy Week, we accompany Jesus and see how his whole life was given over to the love of God, love of self and love of neighbour. When he was faced with the ultimate question in the Garden of Gethsemane, he did not run away from himself. He was able to accept that who he was determined what he was prepared to live and die for. This was not an easy decision, in fact, he wept blood which showed how this was not just a determination of his own will but rather was a commitment of his whole self. He loves us to death. This allows us to notice what he considered important enough to suffer the rejection of others, the betrayal of friends and the bearing of grief. He sought in all things to be what he was called to be.

I believe we see the same commitment in our own time when we see health workers, emergency workers and people in essential industries sacrificing themselves for the good of others. In this time, it calls us to ponder on who we are and how we can become what God calls us to be in this particular time of history. Some would look at circumstances beyond their control and start to believe that we live in the end times. Yet we always live in the reality of the last things, death, judgement, heaven and hell. Yet it is how we live for the sake of God’s kingdom which dwells within us that can sustain us and make us whole. The story is more about how we become Holy and respond to this life-changing event in our Christian history. The Paschal Mystery does not end with Jesus’ death on the cross but rather in a time of waiting and maturation where we listen to the voice which will sustain us. This time of Holy Saturday calls us to see Jesus not just in the externals of life that we have become used to in attending Mass, praying the Office and celebrating the sacraments. It also calls us to see how we internalise these celebrations as a place where a treasure is found within. The pearl of great price which sustains us through many uncertainties. As we await Easter Sunday, we are called to be open to the unexpected encounter with Christ who conquers death and draws us into a new life. He asks us anew who do we stake our life on?

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday – 5th April

Keeping the lights on

I was woken up in the middle of the night with an idea about how we could celebrate the Easter Vigil and Palm Sunday. People are coming up with ideas about how we can express our faith when we are unable to gather in groups of more than two people outside of a household. One suggestion for Sunday is placing a palm on our front door and praying through the gospel passage of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Another session is that over the Easter Triduum you actually read the gospel passages at the time when the events occurred. This would allow for a more meditative approach to the being present to Jesus as he journeyed through his passion. Then on the vigil at 6pm maybe light a candle or a torch in your front window for an hour and pray the exsultet that the light may be kept burning in our hearts or even rising at dawn to welcome the rising of the son! As in all things please be assured of my prayers during these difficult times. 

Fr. John Armstrong