Fr John’s reflection for Sunday 12 Nov 2023

Running on empty

When we set out on a journey there is always a need to ensure that we have enough fuel to reach our destination. This ensures that we make proximate plans to ensure that we know our time of departure and our time of arrival. If we are travelling by car, we seek to prepare the car so that it is roadworthy and that if it is a long distance, we plan adequate stops or have a co-driver to share the driving. If we go by some other form of transport, we trust our lives to another, but we still need to make sure that know when we have to leave, how long it will take, and what we can expect when we arrive. This shows that we do not travel by chance but with a destination in mind.

The Gospel shows this in great detail when it notices that the time of our departure is not known but the destination is. How do we prepare for a journey when we are called to entrust ourselves to another. This is the heart of the words spoken by Jesus, we need to be ever-ready and have our house in order. This brings the readings of the last few weeks into sharp relief. Often it seeks to live our life on our own terms rather than on God’s. When we have so many seeming demands on our time, we can discover our energy being spent planning for the future or resolving historical events. Both these approaches to life while necessary can distract us from being present to what will happen today. We can become distracted by anxiety or angst about what seems urgent but unimportant.

This is where we are called to exercise wisdom that allows God to direct our attention on to what is important but not urgent. It calls us to become present to what is within the locus of our own intentions and within the ambit of our own environment. So often we can become focussed on external events that demand urgent attention but are beyond our control. They can prevent us from being open to the ways that we can and need to be present. Our lives can seem to be out of control and devoid of meaning and purpose. This is where our lives are dispirited and we can seem to have spent all our oil on what does not enlighten us.

As we reflect on the Gospels, we are called to examine what keeps our lamps burning brightly and whether we provide ourselves with the best opportunity to have our flasks refilled. This is where we are called not to abstract ourselves from daily life and the challenges it can bring. It calls us to be prayerfully aware of how God is present in our own reality and how we are called to tend to our environment with God’s heart and eyes. The danger is when we do not examine our own lives that we can become heavily influenced by the conflicts of others. We can be drawn into hostilities, conflicts, and violence that draw on history or animate our own anxiety about our own future. Thus, we can be drawn into reflections that focus on a deterministic view of the world that places ourselves at the heart of any conflict. We know that this is a recipe for disaster because even with the best will in the world often it needs to be recognised that we need to reframe the question about how we should live in our world.

When we allow that question to emerge from within us, from the heart of God our way of living changes. It calls us to see what we need to live by and how this becomes a rule of life for us. No longer are our lives shaped solely by our own desires but rather by the loving call of God who seeks us out and comes at an hour we do not expect. It allows us the possibility that only God can fill our lives with meaning when we have an expectant longing that we are invited to sit down at the table and enjoy the banquet of life laid out for us.


Fr. John Armstrong


“The intellectual quest is exquisite, like pearls and coral. But it is not the same as the spiritual quest. The spiritual quest is on another level altogether. Spiritual wine has a subtler taste. The intellect and the senses investigate cause and effect. The spiritual seeker surrenders to wonder.” (Rumi Wisdom; trans. Timothy Freke)