Fr John’s Reflection – 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 24th January

The Kingdom is close at hand

 Our mission field is provided by the one square metre in which we live. This becomes more self-evident when we become aware of physical distancing in this age of the pandemic. Often this can feel like holding people at arm’s length for fear that we may be infected by the virus. There can be a suspicion which eyes off what the other person is doing and whether it conforms to our understanding of the safeguards that have been put in place. Yet whether it is border closures, travel restrictions or simply the daily movement around people we are called to attend to what happens to the spirit within us. We want to ensure that we do not become distant from the spirit that dwells within.

Thus while we can be aware of the constant flow of bad news which can fixate us on events beyond our control, we can miss how our lives can make a difference in the place where we live. There is a need to discover as the disciples did how we are called to become people who transform our local environment. This means that we not only recognise and develop our own skills and talents. It also means that we need to discover how these can build up the realm of God in our own space. 

We are called to become people who seek to accord our actions with the promptings from within. That is not just to seek our own good but the common good. This calls for our lives to witness how our prayer and reflection guides us to grow closer to God in our own community. By paying attention to what brings life rather than a disaster. By converting our own hearts, we become present to the living heart of God in our community. Our lives proclaim that God is at the heart of all and in all.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 17th January

What do we set our hearts on?

 The desire for something or someone greater than ourselves lies at the heart of our quest to be truly human. It is almost as if there is something in our DNA which naturally seeks union with the whole of creation and the heart of the creator. We sense a restlessness which desires more and we can tend to spend a lot of time and money trying to discover that one thing which makes sense of this itch within us. The prompting which calls us to go beyond ourselves and discover new land in which we can be at peace. In the gospel reading, Jesus asks his disciples what are you looking for? This seems to be a straightforward question, but within it lies a fundamental willingness to yearn to be ourselves in seeking out the answer.

When the disciples ponder this question they come forward with their own question, where do you live? This searching and seeking seem to be innate within our human experience. We desire to know where it is that God is and what God is about. In some way we seek to be provided with a clear and simple answer. Like the disciples, we yearn to be at one with God in the midst of our searching. It is almost as if we seek to discover something or someone beyond ourselves who can provide that answer and in doing so become fulfilled.

This is especially true when we see the disturbances all too prevalent in our world. When we are often besieged by events beyond our control and which disturb our imagination. Whether it be the events on Capitol Hill, whether it is trade conflicts, whether it is the haunting spectre of a virus which cannot be contained or simple the everyday worries about where our next meal will come from we can find ourselves seeking a person who can provide the answers to our worries and concerns. Yet when our life is driven by fears of what menaces us, we can become wilful and reluctant to seek the person who is at the heart of all things.

Yet what we discover is the simple response of Jesus to come and see. It is in the very willingness to spend time with him that we discover who we are and who he is. This is not just about stepping aside from our daily tasks to spend time in prayer but discovering how we see the world differently. This seeking causes us to be at peace with ourselves as we discover it is in the ordinary graces of each day that God is revealed. It is about encountering the holy every day rather than in the extraordinary. This is the true miracle of life that God’s presence can be experienced through the graced encounter and the divine touch of human life. The willingness to become at one with God at the heart of all things.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – The Baptism of the Lord

The Baptism of the Lord – 10th January

 Become like water                                                         

At the centre of our Christian life is the sacrament of baptism in which we die to ourselves to become one with Christ. In this sacrament, we hear the words of God spoken saying “You are my Son, the Beloved: my favour rests on you” This becoming one is not actually a denial of self but rather a revelation of who we are called into relationship with. It calls us to move beyond ourselves to discover how we can discover who we truly are. Like a homecoming, we find ourselves also beloved and favoured.

In a time of the pandemic, this can often allude us. I am very conscious of this living in Greater Sydney where we are identified with being the source of COVID and borders are closed to us. In discovering that the normal freedoms that we are familiar with like travel to particular places we can start to feel anything but one and free. When our humanity and compassion focus more on what excludes us rather than what brings us together, we can start to perceive both an internal and external fracturing. There is ambiguity in which we see adverts inviting us to holiday in places to which we cannot go and see our identity shaped by events beyond our control. In many ways, COVID is modern leprosy in which people can quickly be seen as unclean because of where they live and the risk of the exposure of something which is deadly.

As Christians, I believe that the closure of borders can also lead to a hardening of hearts and a stubbornness which alienates people from one another. There, of course, needs to be safeguards for people’s health and wellbeing but where these become draconian they can start to breed isolation of spirit which is greater than the physical isolation. As Christians, we need to notice how our prayer and our actions find ways to give glory to God in our everyday life. This is evidenced by the hard work of people in the frontline of contact tracing, the willingness of people to get tested and the following of basic hygiene and the wearing of masks. Yet in the midst of all this, we are also called to discover how these are safeguards not barriers to relationships. There are questions which naturally emerge about how long border controls can isolate us from each other rather than giving opportunities for better track and trace. The call for a spirit of cooperation between states and nations is of pressing concern. One can wonder where the spirit so present in the bushfires has dissipated in the face of a virulent strain of the virus. 

I believe that our responsiveness in the face of this ever-present threat to our health and wellbeing is found in the reading from Isaiah which asks us where is the spring of our salvation? What will bring us joy which will bear witness to God’s providence? In our own time and in union with the Baptism of Jesus we are called to notice how we become one through the spirit, the water and the blood. We witness to a life which is not our own. It calls us to become creative not only to how we respond to the challenges of our time but how we allow the waters of baptism to well up inside us.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – The Epiphany of the Lord

The Epiphany of the Lord – 3rd January

What gift do I lay before the Lord?

 Circumstances can often dictate our response to how we live. Whether it is the continuing effects of the pandemic or simply putting on a few extra kilos over Christmas there can be a tendency to feel that our life is out of control. This is often when we start to make resolutions that sound good but resolve little because our heart isn’t in it. The move towards action always needs to emerge from who we are as a person and what we consider as central to our lives. This may well be that some of our best intentions don’t come to pass because they suggest that we should become a different person rather than a better person. They suggest that somehow we don’t have the motivation or the willingness to commit ourselves to a particular course of action. This is where we need to discover that we are already blessed by God with the ability to respond as our true self. It is this self-knowledge which calls us to be less critical and freer to respond as we can and not as we can’t.

I believe this is where our prayer and honesty before God helps us to not talk at God or talk at ourselves. There can always be a belief that there must be some special formula which will allow us to come closer to God or for God to become closer to us. Yet the reality is that God is already present to us and it takes time to quiet our spirits to listen to what is actually going on within. This is not just about thinking the right thing but rather living that presence of God within our own skin. There is a need to engage our mind, heart and body in prayer. This is where we discover to be whole and holy. God does not come to an ideal version of ourselves but rather is receptive to us as we are at the moment. When we can start to see God at work in the ordinary events of each day we start to relax and allow our direction to be motivated by how we are present to this moment and this day. It is not about trying to experience extraordinary events and expecting miracles at the turn of every corner. Rather it opens us to the possibility that God already aids us to find the right direction and the obvious next step. This is important even when we make mistakes or fail to live up to our own expectations. 

There is a need, however, to recognise that we live in the real world in which the mystery of God’s love unfolds. We live in the midst of the environment in which we are planted. This means that our relationship with others and with creation matters. We are not people who are called to manipulate to our best advantage but rather discover the gentle interplay which guides us to hear God’s voice. This receptiveness allows us to notice what brings healing, encouragement and generosity to the places in which we live. We start to notice what brings life and what does not. By noticing the areas in which we are truly life-giving we find the confidence to feel God’s hand at work. There are lightness and surrender that God works with us and labours for us in seeking the good. 

It is from this place of reflection and appreciation of our environment we start to see what particular gifts we put into action. This allows us to see a natural extension of our prayer and study to the events of daily life. We become orientated towards the goodness which brings life to our community. By noticing that each person has a gift to offer we start to realise that life is not hard work but rather an offering which enables others to flourish and grow. Our interactions become blessed rather than burdened. We freely give what we have received. God enables us to be gifted with the generosity to be ourselves. This is where we discover that we are formed and transformed more and more into the person God desires us to become. Our goals and achievements are the fruits of who we are, not the determiners of our own worth. We shape the world by cooperating with God’s grace rather than being shaped into a person we do not recognise. In all things, we seek to become our true self, created in the image and likeness of God.

Fr. John Armstrong