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

Fr John’s Reflection – Fifth Sunday of Lent

Fifth Sunday of Lent – 29th March

Jesus Wept!

I believe that the story unfolds in two ways which address both our hearts and our minds. In addressing Martha and Mary they make the same comment, “If you had been here our brother would not have died.” They receive two very different responses. Martha is engaged with at the level of faith and belief which draws to us our attention to our eternal worth. Mary is engaged with at the level of hope and charity which seeks out the person in the midst of their suffering. It is through our prayerful engagement with the reality expressed by both of these women that we discover freedom which is focused on life more than death. It calls us to discover peace within us which not only values each human life, but which also values our own. In these difficult times, it is often possible to focus on material external things rather than discovering a treasure which lies within us. We are called to be people who are able to each day come to silence so that we can be open to God and to each other. By looking for that silent still place we notice how we transform not only our own hearts but also the hearts around us.

Over the next few weeks and maybe months we can often become caught up with what the news agencies and the government provides us with, the welfare of our community and ourselves. In isolation, we need to be well informed so that we are able to care for ourselves and each other. Yet in that isolation, we also need to find creative ways in which we can be connected. This is important so that we do not become trapped by our feelings of being overwhelmed. There is a call to notice how even in the most difficult circumstances we can become a people of faith, hope and love in the way we are present to God and to each other. 

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Forth Sunday of Lent

Forth Sunday of Lent – 22nd March

Beware of Schadenfreude

In the midst of any crisis, it is possible to become blinded to what is in front of us. This is certainly the story which we are focussed on in this Sunday’s Gospel. The man born blind is cured by Jesus and is able to see. What we discover is that in recovering his sight, it reveals the blindness or the prejudice of others. The first question revolves around whether the blindness is hereditary and based on a sin committed by the person themselves or by his parents. Jesus recognises that this focusses on the wrong question. Physical suffering is not propagated by God as a punishment for sin. Rather it is in the person’s physical sickness that God may be seen to be at work.

The second question centres on whether we can experience healings within the community which restore people to full health. Here the emphasis is that a change in a person’s health can have an impact much more broadly than on the person, it changes the heart of the community to see the person differently. They can no longer be defined by their sickness, they need to be seen as a person in their own right with inherent dignity.

The third question is that if God is at work in the life of this person, how does that change our understanding and experience of God’s presence. What happens when we face the unexpected is, we reference what we experience based on what we have already learnt. Yet in the face of new realities, we need to be open to growing in our understanding and our openness of where God touches our lives. We are called not to rely on existing paradigms which seek to confine God’s merciful love for all people.

Yet in our own time, it is possible to see elements of blindness or myopia which see each crisis in the terms of how it affects our own lives. We need to be cautious that we do not see this either as God’s judgment on the world, a way of isolating people due to their sickness or more seriously questioning how they can grow in a relationship with God. This is a time when people can quickly reference the situation based on their own understanding of the Church or Society or both. Yet we are called to be open to God’s presence in all things and seek what ways we can see this become manifest in our everyday lives. We need to discover creative ways in which in our physical isolation we do become isolated from God or from each other.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Third Sunday of Lent

Third Sunday of Lent – 15th March

Where do we find the oasis in our life?

There is often a desert of good news stories in our lives. The impact of the bushfires and the recent outbreak of the coronavirus have served to identify the places where we are most vulnerable. They cause to focus on situations which seem beyond our control and which can overwhelm us. This is not just in addressing the physical and psychological impacts on our lives but also where we find the wellsprings within us. There can be a sense in which these events can cause us to retreat into ourselves and isolate ourselves from the world. We start to view each other with suspicion rather than friendship. We are called to take precautions for our own health and the health of others, but we need to examine how our behaviour can shift us to become more self-centred rather than other centred.

During Lent, there is the common discipline of fasting, almsgiving and prayer. The question is whether we are ready for the situation when this may be forced upon us due to compulsory quarantine restrictions as in Italy or whether we become used to these quiet pauses in our day where we can reflect on where God may be at work. This is a time where we are called to see what the true wellspring of hope, faith and love is.

The power of intercession at this time for the communities directly affected by the virus is important, but it is equally important that we notice how our own response may be life-giving. There is a need for us to develop a common purpose to develop ways which identify and support what is needed within communities. What are the creative ways in which we can help people to identify the wellspring of life which dwells with them? How do we listen to their stories and help them to become part of the grand story of eternal life?

Fr. John Armstrong

OMCC Bulletin

January – February 2020

OMCC-2002

Fr John’s Reflection – Second Sunday of Lent

Second Sunday of Lent  – 8th March

Will my name be a blessing

When people speak our name does it bring a blessing to others? There is importance to being recognised by name. There is a sense in which the use of the name is not just the sound but also the tone with which it is used. What we notice is that our response to the other is often guided by how we are drawn into a relationship with the other. The name is something deeply personal which shapes our own identity and helps us to notice our own self-worth. When our name is associated with something positive, we feel good about ourselves. In the same way when it is used in a negative way, we can feel the world collapsing in on ourselves. What is important is that we need to hear our name called out as a blessing by God. That what we have been created for is for something good and that we have been loved into being.

When we encounter this for ourselves, we start to use the name of others not just as a way of identifying them but as a discovery of how they too have been blessed into being. This willingness to use another’s name is not just about recognition but it is a desire for a relationship to be formed between two people. This is the smallest of communities which are echoed in Jesus’ call that where two or three are gathered in His name He is present in their midst. This daily encounter with others causes us to reflect on a world which would often prefer we were nameless rather than discovering our true self. 

The use of the name is, therefore, central to our daily life. It says that this other person has intrinsic value and worth. Often this can be a difficult discipline to remember each person’s name and some of us need prompts to call them to mind, even if it is writing down where we met them and with whom. Yet when we bring that person before God in prayer, we seek a bond which is deeper than words. It becomes a place where each person’s name is called to become a blessing.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – First Sunday of Lent

First Sunday of Lent  – 1st March

Walking with Jesus

Our Lenten discipline is not so much an obligation but rather a time of formation when our hearts can be more open to Jesus in the concrete events of our daily lives. Our prayer is not called to become a recitation of words but rather a movement of the heart which seeks to live out a relationship which can sustain and transform us. This transformation is not solely for our own good and merit but rather to engage us in the daily mission of being present to Christ in others. This opening up of our lives allows us to see with the eyes of God which acknowledges that each person is made in the image and likeness of God called to be a steward of creation.

As good shepherds it is important to recognise that the world does not revolve around us. Thus, our fasting from food or behaviour is not just a self-improvement exercise, even though there are elements of this in any penitential action. Rather it is about an opening up to those areas of our lives when God’s light is called to shine more clearly. It is where we need to move from a life which focusses solely on what I want towards a life which is responsive to God in surrendering that which draws us into a deeper relationship with the whole of creation. It recognises that each action has consequences which either seek to centre the world upon ourselves or on sharing the good that we have received with others.

This is where the third discipline comes in. It is about establishing relationships which focus less on a person’s poverty than on our common humanity. It is about enabling the other person to develop the essential elements of their lives which can bring hope and love to their community. The charitable giving is about sustaining a relationship which is not just transactional or feels good but rather transformational. The giving is not just one way but rather calls us to receive the life of another as important as our own.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time

Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time – 23rd February

What is Lent about anyway?

As Catholics and increasingly among many Christians there is an intentional desire to come closer to Christ and to understand His mission among us. This is not just about accumulating a certain amount of information about his life, death and resurrection but rather an immersion in the vision of God’s Kingdom being lived among us. There can be a sense that this life is an apprenticeship for a “real” future life with God. The fact that Jesus walks amongst us and with us should quickly help us to see that God is with us in an eternal now. We are not just seeking a get out of jail free card to enter heaven and avoid hell. Jesus wanted for us to encounter the same living and loving relationship with the Father which sin can often obscure. There can be a sense that if only we tried hard enough, we would be able to see and hear clearly. Yet often the obstacles that we face dwell deep within us and cause us to dissipate that natural energy entrusted to us by God in follies of our own creation which distract, fatigue and diminish us. This is not God’s plan for us. There is a desire in God’s hearts for us to encounter a relationship which is so deep and so sustaining that even our worst sin cannot remove the fundamental truth that God has loved us into existence for a good purpose.

Yet Lent allows us to notice more clearly those things that burden us on the journey which God wishes us to be free from. This is not just a stoic exercise where we choose what to give up but rather a relationship which helps us to examen each day those areas in our life which help us to come closer and those things which feel like death to us. Ultimately, it calls us to fast from the things which have an addictive and counterfeit hold on us. Those things which scream at us and say you cannot live without this and still be normal. Yet Lent allows us to become more simple, to notice what actually brings life and what frees us to enter into a life-giving relationship with God, with others and with ourselves. Thus, when we fast it is not so much what we do but rather our intention to become a person who falls more deeply in love with God, with others and with ourselves. The penitential acts we undertake are not to centre attention solely on ourselves but rather on God. This will decide what we need to be free from (fasting) and what allows us a greater level of generosity (almsgiving). These are not acts undertaken solely on our initiative but out of a daily relationship with God and with our community in prayer. We cannot do this on our own. We need to journey with each other to discover the degree which God loves. Ultimately, he loves us unto death so that we may discover a new life. This is the whole journey not just a matter of routine or a “Catholic” thing. What we are seeking is to trust that our lives matter to God and that we are prepared to surrender every aspect of our lives to God so that we can live more fully.

Fr. John Armstrong