26th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 27th September
What we say yes and no to shapes our life. Our choices influence the person we seek to become. They indicate what is our preference and help us to notice what most draws our attention. Yet in our society, we live in a culture which seeks to have us say yes to everything for fear that we will miss out on something. This fear of missing out seeks us to be present to all things with the same level of attention which can often leave us fearful and afraid. If we choose one thing that means that we miss out on something else. We fear been left behind or not having enough interesting stuff to talk to other people about. We feel that there is a drive to be self-sufficient, altruistic and magnificent all at the same time.
Yet if we give our yes’s too easily, we can notice that there is only so much time in the day to dedicate to what we do. We start to cram activities and to-do lists into every corner. We measure our success by external indicators which consume our lives and our attention. Yet in the end, we can be tired, exhausted and directionless until we find another task to be undertaken. The call I believe is to ponder on what is essential and what builds life-giving options for ourselves and for others.
Who are we called to become? This seems to be the central question. By weighing up not just what we say but in how we become present to our choices, this helps us to see who and what is central to our lives. Which voices we listen to, what creates our best self and what enables us to be present to the needs of others. When we say yes too quickly, we notice that we create masks from people knowing our true selves. Yet when we notice our reluctance or resistances, we can ponder more deeply what is the right thing to do not just for ourselves but for others.
Fr. John Armstrong
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 20th September
There can be times when we seem to work hard in the heat of the day and wonder what our reward will be. This can be especially true when others seem to benefit from the work we perform. I believe our attitude to our work changes how we work. I am reminded of the story of three street cleaners who were asked why they performed their work. The first said it was so that he could receive a pay cheque at the end of the week and enjoy his weekend. The second said it was so that she could support her family and offer them some security. The third said he saw himself as improving the environment of the place in which he lived to create a spirit of welcome to those who lived in his neighbourhood. All of these three had legitimate expressions of what motivated them into the work, however, the last one saw that his work was focussed almost solely on the needs of others.
In the same way, I believe we need to discover what we fall in love with in life. This will determine how we spend our day and what “reward “we seek for our labour. It also changes how we respond to the labour of others and relate to people who serve us. The essence is on building healthy relationships which allow us to work well. In the end the person finds dignity in their work and in acknowledging the contribution of another we find a spirit of thankfulness emerging in our life.
As Pedro Arrupe wrote:
“Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love
In a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read,
whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.”
Fr. John Armstrong
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 13th September
There can be times when a person or an event can cause deep resentment to stir within us. This may be disproportionate to the situation but it can well up in us like acid or a volcanic eruption waiting to burst forth. It is important at these times to allow us the room to notice the anger and bring it before God in prayer. Some psychologists would notice that our angry reaction can last but a moment but our response can last a lifetime. This is why it is vitally important that when we notice this strong passion rising within us that we allow God to befriend us in prayer.
Anger often has a history which is a safety measure which allows us to protect ourselves from danger either to ourselves or to another. We do not become angry about things that don’t affect us or harm something or someone that we treasure. The importance then is to notice that our working through our angry feelings means that we need to give ourselves the space to resolve our own internal reactions. This should be done apart from the person or the situation which has caused us anger. Untamed anger can become our enemy which can unleash inner violence which does harm to us or to another. Anger which is befriended allows us to make constructive use of that passion for the good of another as well as ourselves.
What is strongly associated with anger is noticing both the facts that lie behind it but also the attitude that we have towards the world. At the heart of the readings are the words of the psalmist, “The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger and rich in compassion”. What is essential is how having acknowledged and befriended these feelings we notice that we are not called to plan vengeance but seek forgiveness for ourselves and for the other. This is not so that we do not acknowledge serious injustices but that we allow us to notice how each person is called into a living relationship with God and with another. The two go hand in hand. We become people who build relationships of trust and healing. This is not just a simple panacea but rather forgiveness which is heartfelt and life-giving. When we do not allow God’s forgiveness to be at the heart of our lives our anger can be like drinking poison hoping the other person will die!
If you are in the midst of a dispute as you read this take time to dwell with God about how you are present to yourself and the other. Be honest, be creative but ultimately be open to compassion for yourself and the other. In so doing we replace the feeling that we are called to be a doormat by becoming a welcome mat. A person is hospitable to others as we seek to befriend ourselves.
Fr. John Armstrong
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 6th September
One of the strengths of our Christian faith is that when we are gathered even in the smallest numbers Christ is present in our midst. Yet it is the purpose of our gathering which is to love God and love our neighbour. As Paul notes in the letter to the Romans that love is the answer to each one of the commandments as it cannot hurt our neighbour. The question then becomes how does our love become manifest.
In the Gospel of Matthew, this talks about how we seek to reach out to our brother or sister in loving concern not only for their wellbeing but for the good of their relationship with God. Often, we can sense that God is solely directed by our own agenda and what we consider to be important. Yet we often need to meet with others to listen to God’s voice, to seek what will bring freedom and not cause harm.
Similarly, in the prophet Ezekiel, the listening to the word of God is not just for our good but for the good of the other. In the words of the psalmist, our prayer becomes, “O that today you would listen to his voice! Harden, not your hearts.” So, this is not just correcting a person but desiring them to encounter God who directs their actions. Once again, we hear echoes of Paul where it is a loving concern for another that changes hearts. This should always be at the heart of our prayer that we “avoid getting into debt, except the debt of mutual love.” When we have an agape unconditional loving which is not solely for our own advantage or promotion of our interests God abides with us and directs our actions.
Fr. John Armstrong