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
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 30th August
The Gospel of this weekend reflects how just as Peter recognised who Jesus was, he wanted to dictate how his ministry should unfold. We can notice this in our own prayer where we try to set the agenda and then assess how God matches up to our own criteria. What we discover is that God’s vision is often broader and more inclusive than our own. It is not that God is inattentive but rather that he plants within us a desire for love and peace which calls us to take risks to move out beyond ourselves. Our religion is not called to be neatly contained by our own interests but rather responsive to God’s initiative to lead us out on a mission.
During this time of enforced isolation, we can start to notice that what truly brings life works to a different rhythm. God seeks to guide us to find what leads to our true human flourishing which seeks the goodness of God in our own environment. Rather than concentrating on the problems we face and the difficulties that surround us, we become more open to seeking a more compassionate and hopeful response. This does not remove us from the challenges that we all experience but it does help us to view them differently. It calls us to be people of practical wisdom who notice how God is present in our everyday responses.
Our life is called to be one which builds bridges so that we can encounter others, not destroy them. This is especially true in our own world where noticing differences does not cause us to dwell on divisions but rather on what sustains life. In a world which seems to focus on the fear of our own mortality or even promotes a “me-first” culture, we become more open to the universal call to be present. This recognises that each country and indeed every person is formed with a particular culture. Yet this is not to exclude others but to recognise the gifts that we bring to the table. As we listen to the voice of God in this time may we dwell on what unites us and sustains us in hope.
Fr. John Armstrong
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – 23rd August
Jesus does not ask this question in a way which seeks a throwaway reply. He seeks for us to discover how his life affects our own. In order to understand this, we need to examine the context in which this exchange takes place with his disciples. The scene takes place against the cliff face surrounding Caesarea Phillippi. This was the place which was considered to be the gates of hell and was taken so seriously that numerous Greek and Roman “gods” were placed on watch at the entrance. There was even a garrison of Roman soldiers garrisoned at the foot of these cliffs just in case all hell should break loose. This is not just passing the time of day but rather saying whether his disciples recognised that it was their relationship with him which held this internal struggle at bay. What we say yes and no to affects the way we live and relate to each other.
In our current age, we are also aware of how the person of Jesus is called to be a living and sustained relationship. This is not just a form of words or a well-expressed theology but rather a living prayer which shapes how we live. Our lives are called to be transformed by our prayer and our prayer is called to be transformed by our lives. In noticing how our relationship with Jesus sustains us and guides us we start to notice what he noticed. This is not only our own internal struggles but also a passion for the reconciliation and healing of the lives of people around us. This can seem like a life and death struggle in how we seek to become authentic and integrated into life. Our authority does not come by a delegation from outside but arises as a loving response which sustains us. Our witness of his life guides us to be present to our world with hope and grace.
So, the way we answer the question is not in what we say but in how we live. In fact, it is by considering this question each day that we discover the life of Jesus becoming central to our own reflections and actions. It is how we are called to become prayerfully aware of God’s presence in the everyday circumstances that we encounter. God is present in who we seek to become and how we are present to each other. In this, we learn to discover deep inner freedom to become the person God desires us to be.
Fr. John Armstrong
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 16th August
Often when we consider proclaiming the gospel to another person it is possible to proceed from a position of needs to have what we are having. This is a dynamic which sees the other person as a blank slate on which we can write the Good News. There are problems with this process as people tend to resist being preached at or being told that they need to be saved. What they hear and what we say can make a profound difference in how a person receives that message of faith, hope and love. I believe there is a way which does not assume that the person is lacking in any of these areas.
We hear the words of the Canaanite woman who seeks healing for her daughter from Jesus. Paul seeks to preach to the pagans because they experience God’s mercy. In Isaiah, the foreigners seek to have a care for justice and to act with integrity. This approach assumes there is natural and intuitive goodness planted in each person by God. There is a desire which wells up inside each person which seeks to live from that place of good not just for themselves but for others. Karl Rahner often called these people anonymous Christians. There is a place where they have met Jesus Christ in a way which proceeds us talking about him. The way opens up the doors of salvation to those who appear “far away”.
When we then go out and live that good news in our community it is by way of attraction and friendship. Trusting that God will introduce us to the people ready to hear that Word which they have already noticed intuitively. It allows people to be affirmed and encouraged in their journey of faith which allows us to join them on pilgrimage. This is not by pouring information into them but rather by arousing their curiosity and trust to be formed and transformed by the person of Christ. As missionaries, our simple “work” is to be ourselves in the way we live and become prayerfully aware of how God has already proceeded us and touched hearts. The work becomes simpler because we are called to listen with the eyes of the heart which notice where there is a revealed truth that God is present in this place. In this way, we are called to be companions who befriend others as they befriend us. Noticing that it is God who leads us and encounters in the simple acts of each day.
Fr. John Armstrong
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 9th August
There is a constant theme in this weekend’s Gospel story where Jesus invites Peter to walk towards him across the water. This seems impossible and unrealistic, yet Peter steps out of the boat in a belief that he can reach Jesus. Yet in the midst of the storm and beset by the wind it seems that Peter comes to his senses and recognises the precariousness of his situation. He might say to himself, “nobody can walk on water” or maybe, “what was I thinking I might drown”. Suddenly he is aware of his fears and the danger which surrounds him and he begins to sink. Yet in the midst of this dangerous situation, Jesus reaches out to him and pulls him back up and into the boat. The storm settles and everything seems to be calm again. Yet Peter is aware of the internal battle that still rages within him and his utter dependence upon the person of Jesus.
I feel that in these uncertain times we are constantly called by Jesus to walk on water. This seems impossible and impractical. We often want concrete solutions to concrete problems. We notice this when we turn to our political and civic leaders to rescue us from the current pandemic. Yet in many ways, we find them bewildered and confused about the best way to navigate the way through the crisis. Rather than too little information, there is too much that they are called to consider. Not only the health of the nation but also the welfare of people both in the short and long term. There can be an impression that we are all at sea and that the phrase that we are all in this together takes on fresh poignancy. The call, especially for this time, is to keep those who offer leadership in our prayers. We pray that they can keep their eyes on what brings life rather than on what threatens disaster and misfortune.
Also, for ourselves in the midst of the new “normal” we are called to step out in faith. We follow the health guidelines to keep ourselves and others safe. This can seem difficult because the distance from each other cannot be fully bridged by zoom. There is something about physical presence which needs to aid our encounter with God and with each other. This is probably the hardest part of this pandemic because we are called to be social people who support each other by our presence. This is not only an attention to what is real but where our bodies are there also is our hearts. How do we help each other in this time to discover that real presence of God who is at the centre of our lives? This can often be difficult when only limited numbers can gather in the Church at any one time. When communion seems to be reserved just to those able to attend Mass. There are longing and a desire for the presence of Jesus who sustains us. I believe this is where our prayer and our life are called to be Eucharistic. When we sit down for a meal we pray, share company with each other and can take action for the good of others. I believe especially in the light of this week’s explosion in Beirut and the tragedy unfolding in Lebanon we could take the time of fasting on one day during the week and using the money we save to make a contribution for their immediate needs. In this way when we break bread with each other we share a deeper communion both in Mass and in our regular meals for that deeper connection which unites in God especially at times of trouble. We are never alone when we encounter the person of Jesus who listens to our fears, reaches out his hand and says why did you doubt?
Fr. John Armstrong