Pentecost Sunday – 31st May
I was particularly struck by some words from Richard Rohr in his book “The Naked Now”, ‘Authentic love is of one piece. How you love anything is how you love everything.’ (p127) What particularly struck me about this was it strikes me as being at the heart of the Gospel for this weekend. Those whose sins that are forgiven are forgiven those that are retained are retained. This constant challenge is presented to us in the Our Father. How we seek to love God is how we seek to love our neighbour as ourselves. This seems to be the non-negotiable element of the Christian faith. We are to be present to that authentic gift of the spirit which enables us to be lovable and loving.
So how do we enable this encounter in our daily lives? There is often a sense in which the Holy Spirit is considered a mysterious force than an encounter with a person. It is this ambivalent nature that causes us to relate more easily to a God who makes the rules or to a God who shows us how to live them out. It is much easier to see God as Father or God as Son. These two persons of the Trinity help us to understand images from our own life and upbringing. We live as a parent or as a child. Often we are conscious of how many of our relationships are grounded in these essential relationships. Yet the Holy Spirit allows us to encounter God on equal terms where God dwells deep within us.
This encounter with the person of the Holy Spirit helps us to see how we have been gifted for the good of ourselves and the good of others. We are entrusted with a loving presence which allows us to be attentive and aware of who we are for others. This loving presence helps us to notice what brings life to our world and how we can be ever creative in the present moment. By becoming alert to what brings life to us and to others we notice how our world changes and is transformed. No longer do we seek to possess life but rather we surrender to life. This remarkable change enables us the freedom to be ourselves rather than some counterfeit image shaped by distorted seeking after love outside us. Once we recognise that we are both lovable and capable of loving our world changes and we become our true self. A person formed in the image and likeness of God.
Fr. John Armstrong
The Ascension of the Lord – 24th May
I am with you until the end of time
The words that leapt out at me from this weekend’s Gospels are make, baptise and teach. My initial reaction was this seemed like an impressive ‘to do’ list. This great commission that is given to us is to make disciples, to baptise people in the name of the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit and teach all the things that Jesus commanded us. What this raises is that this is more than just a recruiting exercise but a desire to live a life which attracts people into a loving relationship with God.
The call to make disciples is not one which seeks to coerce people into following Christ but rather to befriend them. This takes the belief that our call to be people who are approachable is central to the way we live our lives. At the heart of our Christian faith is a person who seeks to draw us more deeply into relationship with God. This calls us to be people who are prayerfully present to the situations in which we live. The call is to become aware of what brings life to us and to others. When people see that we live our faith they will be attracted to ask us more.
On any journey, we recognise that there is a desire to be in communion with each other. This is at the heart of our community that we are called together as a baptised people. We are baptised into a person who is at the heart of our living. This requires a certain dying to ourselves that we may be born into a life which will sustain us. The recognition that each person is gifted by God for the good of the whole community. They do not exercise an office or live a particular charism for yourself only. This may well be at the heart of how we become Church. Rather than noting the different callings in life, we are called to recognise how we are called to become one in Christ Jesus.
At the heart of this is the great commandment which is linked to the great commission. “To love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength and to love our neighbour as ourselves.” We are not called to become rugged individualists but rather companions who recognise Christ in each other. This is what draws us into a relationship with God and with each other.
When this all seems too much and we feel that this may be hard work. Jesus reminds us that he is with us always. This allows us the freedom to discover how God is present to us in all times and all places.
Fr. John Armstrong
6th Sunday of Easter – 17th May
This seems to be the longest two months in history. Many of the things that people have taken for granted such as freedom of movement, public gatherings and group activities seem to have disappeared overnight. We start to connect more online with each other and in a way come closer even over the distance which separates us. Yet there is a deeper longing which sustains us which calls for us to hope in something deeper. This is especially true as people have lost jobs, battle with both their physical and mental health but also the sense of isolation. The truth that we seek is not paper-thin and we seek to discover something more than headlines and information, important as that may be, for helping us to make good decisions.
What seems fundamental in this time is which voices allow us to be formed and reformed in the image of Christ. This is not by just paying lip service to the Gospels but a genuine seeking to live as Christ intends. Our prayer and our lives have a divine interplay which forms the basis for who we are called to become. Our hope is not just based on wishful thinking that one-day things will get better. Rather we are called to be people who are well-founded in our faith. This means that we cannot just do this on our own. We need to be people who gather together in prayer to share our stories. These are stories which reflect on how the Good News forms how we respond rather than react to the world around us. It calls us to know what is actually happening in people’s lives and be prepared to listen with the ears of the heart. Not just to what is said but what the quiet inner voice desires. This may actually lead to a transformation of people’s lives.
This transformation is not just achieved by hard work. It is not just a simple following of the rules but rather a discovering of a rule of life which allows a person to journey with others. It calls us to become people who care for others and not just for ourselves. This is a way of abiding in the presence of God each day. This way of allowing each moment to open our hearts and our eyes to where God leads us allows us to become people of hope. No longer is our life just formed by what we do but who we are becoming. Each day allows us to be present in all that we are and all that we do.
Fr. John Armstrong
5th Sunday of Easter – 10th May
We can often admire Churches which give us a sense of God’s presence. They provide us with the place where we find ourselves truly present to the presence. At a time when often our Churches are closed there is not only a sense of physical distancing but also a sense of spiritual loss. Churches are not just places where we gather for worship, but they are visible reminders of how God is called to be at the centre of our living.
Yet in the midst of this distance, we also recognise that the Church is made up of living stones. A building never exists just for itself but as a visible sign of a living reality. As Christians, we recognise how our lives build on the foundations that have been placed before us. We discover that over the ages Jesus has invited people to discover Himself as the Way, the Truth and the Life. By seeking Him in all that we do and all that we are we find our lives take on eternal meaning. We are called to notice how God is present in our prayer and in our daily lives.
Sometimes, we can share the questions raised by Thomas and Philip. Thomas wants to know the carefully crafted plan that we are called to follow. A roadmap which will guide us clearly on the way. Yet Jesus says that it is a relationship with him as the guide which enables us each day to take the next obvious step that we are called to take. In a similar way, Philip wants to see the way clearly and to discover God, face to face. Yet Jesus once again points to himself. In seeing Him we see the Father.
This is part of our daily mission to see with the eyes of faith the opportunities that God gives us to discover how to live out our pilgrimage of trust. This is to discover what way reveals to us the truth of God’s love to us and enlivens us into action. Each day is a fresh opportunity to acknowledge that God is with us.
Fr. John Armstrong
4th Sunday of Easter – 3rd May
One of the most important parts of our lives is the name we are known by. It not only creates our identity but allows us to respond to those who call us. Yet our name is used in many different contexts. In this modern age with advanced technology, people can use our name for their good either to sell us something or to convince us to buy into their opinion. Especially in this time of social distancing, it is possible to be lured into buying something or settling for another’s opinion simply because they seem to know something about us. In the age of advanced algorithms, a person can take our interests to their hearts for their good rather than our own. I am very conscious of this with some websites which review purchases and seem to understand what we want before we do! This makes us very vulnerable to those who want to profit from our desire for intimacy and to be known.
Yet the Gospel of this week paints a very different picture. It does not look for recognition outside us but an intimate knowledge of who we are. In fact, this is part of our pilgrim journey and good friendships. This is about spending time with another not because of what we can get out of it but simply to be in the presence and company of another as ourselves. In fact, this is what prayer seeks as well. Prayer is not about creating a shopping list but rather attentiveness to God as we are and God’s awareness of ourselves. In many ways, we look at God and God looks at us. This time does not have to be multilayered or complex it is just a simple surrender to the God who is as we are. We are befriended as we are, not as we think we should be.
When we have this familiarity of listening to the voice that seeks the best for us and leads us into good pasture, we seek it more and more. This daily listening not only sustains us but leads us to trust in God more deeply. We start to recognise this voice amidst all the voices which can besiege us. There is a longing which burns within us and guides us to respond naturally to the life we have been given. Especially, at this time we are called to enter into that inner room which sustains us and enlivens us to be present. No longer are we called to be afraid but to seek God in all things and in all people.
Fr. John Armstrong