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Fr John’s Reflection – Divine Mercy Sunday.

Sunday, 11 April, 2021, Divine Mercy Sunday.


Believing Thomas!

Thomas always seems to get a bad rap! He wants to check out what the other disciples have experienced is true. He asks good questions about how we experience life when he says if I don’t see it for myself, I cannot believe it is true. For him, faith is a personal journey even when he is encouraged by others. I feel that this is true for all of us and especially in our present age. While others can teach us about Jesus, it is only through personal experience that we learn to relate to Jesus. Even the best teacher or homilist can only lead us towards that experience, they cannot undertake the journey on our behalf. In fact, this is where we are called to begin our Easter journey. We are called to notice what happens in everyday life. To discover what leads us to an experience of life and not death. Where we find our hearts burning within us as we listen to scripture, pray and gather with others.

Yet in the reality of daily life, we are called to encounter the living wounds of Christ. Often around times of suffering and death, we experience different emotions of trauma and grief. This is perfectly natural and each of us with the support of others undertakes this part of the journey in life. What catches us by surprise is that the experience of passing through trauma and grief empowers us to encounter others in ways that bring hope and life. Much in the same way as Thomas meeting the Risen Christ, we put our hands in their side. Not to cause more grief and suffering but to encounter one heart beating in rhythm with our own.

In fact, there is often a tentativeness in each of us in standing with a community or an individual who has gone through an experience of deep grief. Often, we can be with them on Good Friday, but it is hard to stay with the silence of Holy Saturday which marks the transition to Easter Sunday. Often it is this waiting that frustrates and worries us. There is a tendency which wishes to rush a person through their experience of suffering and death because it disturbs us with our own mortality. Yet if we can wait with the person and their questions like Thomas, it opens up space within us to touch the heart of another. Often this is done with hesitation when we ask for one thing but do not expect the response to be invited in. This is a place of profound trust and vulnerability. It is in fact what Jesus invites Thomas to do. To make the first tentative steps to sense his heart beating in time with our own. Easter is a time when we are called to trust and have faith that Jesus will surprise us often in our everyday encounters. In many ways, he uses the same words: “Do not be afraid, put your hand into my side”. Trust that even in our deepest questions and our darkest night, Christ’s light will shine.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday – 28th March

 How do we welcome Jesus into our hearts?

 We know the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem all too well. How cheering crowds could so easily turn into a howling mob! It is a reality we see all too often when peaceful demonstrations turn ugly when anger turns into violence and the hope of liberation turns to tyranny. There is something all too familiar with the story which seems to be played out in our own time not only in events over history. It is probably a good reality check to see where our hearts are at the beginning of Holy Week.

There can be anticipation that Lent is rapidly drawing to an end and we approach the climax of Jesus life in the Paschal Mystery. Where is it in his life, death and resurrection that we see the story of our own salvation played out? This is not just a mystery play that leaves us unmoved but a life that touches deeply into our own. Lent is not just about what we have given up but how it has prepared us to encounter the person of Jesus in the reality of our own frailty, vulnerability and sinfulness. His life is intertwined with our own as we journey towards Calvary. We know suffering, disappointment and the feelings which cause us to hide away from a God who loves us. The immanence of the person Jesus overcomes us and surprises us with grace.

Over this week we are called to accompany Jesus, not just as passive observers but as living participants who are profoundly affected by his total self-offering. The at-one-ment opens the gates to the relationship with the Father which lay at the centre of his life. This is not just a blind abandonment to fate but rather an active engagement with what lay at the heart of his life. God was prepared to offer everything of life that we may enter into eternal life. That in his death we discover a life that transforms us and breaks our own hearts with life and love. This Holy Week is not just a depressing repetition of past events or a reminder of the cost of sin on the human heart but rather a hope-filled encounter with the person who reorients our life towards God.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 4th Sunday of Lent

4th Sunday of Lent – 14th March

 What bites us may not kill us!

 The image of Jesus suffering on the cross has often been one of the most confronting images in which we encounter a God who self-empties everything for our good. This is a very disturbing reality for most of us as we discover a God who is vulnerable and who can suffer with us and for us. There is a part of us that wishes to save Jesus from this suffering but there is also another part of us that recognises that our own personal suffering afflicts our own body. None of us is immune to the afflictions which can cause us mental, physical and spiritual pain. There is an acknowledgement that Jesus’ total offering of self for the good of another can help us to experience not only a deeper insight into our own life but also how we are called to become vulnerable to what seems unspeakable.

This reality can become part of our own Lenten experience. Through our own penance, fasting and almsgiving we discover that there is an inward desire to encounter God as ourselves. This can be about losing our false image of self which seeks to control outcomes, seeking quick fixes and listening all too easily to the solutions which are not meant for us. Lent ultimately seeks us to encounter God in our own poverty, powerlessness and frailty. This allows us to abandon our whole life into the loving embrace of God who does not seek counterfeit affection but an inward desire which wells up within us. This seeks for us to become real and become who God desires us to be.

So here we stand at Laudate Sunday hoping beyond hope that our lives are centred on the one person who matters. To discover in the midst of our daily confusion, struggles, sadnesses and the pressures of life that there is a God who sustains us in love, hope and peace. This does mean abandoning our plans but rather encountering a God who seeks to bring them to fruition with a graced awareness. The recognition that God sustains us when we make the first step. Thus, our mediation on the cross sees our own vulnerability in his own. That our lives are open to God who is all in all.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 5th Sunday of Lent

5th Sunday of Lent – 21st March

The Law written on our hearts!

When someone asks us, what is the right thing to do we often turn to a book of rules or laws. When we ask how I am called to be the person that God desires me to be we need to know the heart of the person who wrote the laws. This is often the dilemma we encounter in daily life. In some ways, it is easy to know the law rather than the heart of the lawgiver. Often we encounter this in relationships whether it be in playing a sport, living our lives in the workplace or meeting people for the first time. The encounters that are part of daily life are called to be truly life-giving for ourselves and for others. We are called to become our best self which seeks to show authenticity and integrity.

Over the last few weeks, we witnessed this reality in the life of the nation and the world around the issue of sexual violence towards women. The question is how to build workplaces and social environments which allow women a place where they can feel safe and respected. I believe often we live with the contradictions where physical beauty is seeing people objectively and this causes a diminishment in treating a person with the dignity that they deserve. This is not only present in how we see the prevalence of the trivialisation of relationships that are lifelong and sustaining. Often it is the breakdown of trust between persons which causes people to live in a society that is underlaid by fear and anxiety. The question is not how we apply the law but how we are called to be people who are authentic and integrated.

I believe Richard Rohr noted this in rites of passage that men discover both their power and vulnerability. The fact that these rites of passage are not present as a regular part of our western culture can cause young men to become powerful without recognising their own vulnerability and the vulnerability of others. I can sense that the ability to have power without responsibility can cause many to treat others as objects to be possessed rather than people to be related to. Young men need to learn through prayer and reflection on how to live their lives as people of compassion and integrity. 

When we come to the questions of the heart, we need to recognise that our prayer often deals with the internal conflicts that we all experience. When issues trouble us they call for a thoughtful and prayer-filled response which is for the good of the person and the good of the whole community. There can be a sense in which it is easy to demonise the other and to see our own life as the only thing that matters. Yet at the heart of the gospel is what seeds do we want to be planted within us which blossom to eternal life. I believe that bringing issues into the light allows us to recognise not only the truth of human life but also how we become people of compassion. This allows us to notice what needs to die within us so that we can become our best self.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 3rd Sunday of Lent

3rd Sunday of Lent – 7th March

Can we buy off God?


 Sometimes our prayers of intercession can sound more like a wish list where we try to bargain with God. We seek to influence a particular outcome in our favour and we would like God to see it from our point of view. Often this can seem like we keep badgering God with the same request even though it may not be what God sees as the best for us. There can be a tendency to see this is as a transaction which if I pay a certain amount of money, undertake a particular sacrifice or spend a certain time in prayer that God will respond more favourably to my request. There may even be a subtle thought that if I do this God owes me the solution which is most beneficial to my circumstances.

Yet sometimes it is in our disappointments that God encounters us as we truly are. The most significant insight is that we cannot buy God off and seek him to compensate us with a certain reward for our good behaviour. Regardless of our action or inaction the love of God is constant and I believe this is what Jesus notices in the turn over of the tables in the temple. His frustration and anger are not that people are seeking to develop a relationship with God but the thought that it can be turned into a transactional relationship. Jesus desires us to encounter God in a way that transforms our lives into a way that brings us into a deeper faith, hope and charity.

I believe this is where our Lenten discipline is the most challenging because it is not what we give up but rather how we abandon everything over to God. This profound surrender seeks to engage our whole being, heart, mind and body in a way of living which acknowledges our total dependence on God’s loving presence in our lives. It is when we do that out of a profound union with the person who loves us most deeply that we start to discover who it is that we are called to be and how we are to act. It allows trust to be discovered which build up a sense of mutuality that we are created in God’s image and likeness. There is a sense that God desires what will bring us the greatest happiness and the best contribution that we can make to our own community. Lent is not what we give up but rather the relationship we are drawn into that recognises that even in our frailty, sinfulness and limited vision that God calls us to see with eternal vision. To notice how God’s presence transforms our world for good!

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 2nd Sunday of Lent

2nd Sunday of Lent – 28th February

Transformed by Light Plunged into Darkness


Lent brings with it two amazing contrasts in the spiritual life revealed to us in the Transfiguration. The first is that we meet the full reality of Jesus contained in the law and prophets. We see clearly the black fire of the written word on white fire of our hearts. We are called to see God present in all things. The glory of God is made transparently clear which overwhelms us with awe. We are astonished by God’s immense love for us in revealing Jesus’ divine presence and its impact on our lives.

Yet almost as we seem to comprehend this we seem to be plunged into darkness where God seems to be no-where and no-thing. It is almost as though all the certainties about God are stolen from us and we enter into a cloud of unknowing. We start to have doubts about ourselves and our fears confound our isolation. Yet it is in this darkness that we are able to listen attentively to the voice of God which says, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.”

Thus, Lent is a deeper awareness of how we can encounter God in every aspect of our lives while also realising that God is no-thing. These dual experiences are essential if we are to surrender our whole life to God. Recognising that it is through these experiences we encounter God as our true self.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 1st Sunday of Lent

1st Sunday of Lent – 21st February

What do we thirst for?


Lent is a time when we are driven out into the desert to face our own demons. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of daily life, we often are drawn to events outside of us which seem to crowd out our inner lives. There are bills to pay, people to meet, appointments to be kept and items to be purchased. Our lives can become simply a to-do list which we mark off with an inevitability there will be more things to be done. There can seem to be a relentless pressure to perform and meet the expectations of others. That there never seem enough hours in a day to attend to what we consider important.

Yet Lent is really a time when we could consider a to-be list. How have we been present to our daily activities with a spirit of thanksgiving and gratitude? What has helped us to notice the graced moments where God draws our attention to beauty, creativity and wonder? They may only be simple things like a person who unexpectedly smiles and wishes us a good day. The person who recognises that we may need encouragement with a particularly difficult task or even a person who agrees to accompany us to a doctor appointment. These are all things that we can take for granted but they transform lives.

In a similar way, we can see what most easily allows us to review what is bringing us life and leading us to a more wholesome way of living. This can be as simple as seeking to notice what we truly hunger for and what satisfies us. It can also notice what seems to be a dead weight on us and which we endure rather than carry. There are situations in life where we will all encounter difficulties but how do we find ways in which we can bring a sense of joy and peace to what to many would seem a crushing weight. 

There can also be those times when we are distracted from the very good that we seek to do by things that have the appearance of being urgent rather than important. When we notice that we are spending time on things which do not help us or others we can start to make changes which open us to the more creative use of our day. We can also become aware of the direction in which our life is taking and make small course changes which direct us to a more prayerful way of living.

In the end, Lent is about preparing ourselves for the renewal which comes about through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Recognising those things which are obstacles to the way of life we seek to live, to discover the truth which will sustain us on the journey to becoming fully alive.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 14th February

Preparing for Lent

  Thinking back over the last year it seems as though we have had our longest Lent. When we first started to hear about COVID we thought that it would last for a relatively short time. But in many ways, it has been like a longer penitential season. We have been called upon to pay particular attention to personal hygiene, physical distancing and unnecessary travel. In many cases, the restrictions became mandatory and at short notice. People were called to adjust their plans at short notice and many of the things we took for granted were thrown awry. There was a sense in which the enforcement of this distancing brought with it much confusion, isolation and anger. It called us to reflect on what was important in our lives. I believe this is what Lent is truly about, it calls us to notice what we need to fast from which at times may be more than food. It is what can isolate us from God and from each other. Thus, our fasting helps us to notice the places where we put up barriers to God and to others in our lives. This is where our prayer is not just time which we set aside but rather listening to how God prompts us to discover who we are called to be in our daily lives. It is listening to the quiet voice which sustains us. As I have said to our seminarians we think at light speed, God speaks to us at walking pace. When we notice that we have time to slow down we can start to see that we are not the centre of the universe. We are called to notice those around us especially those in greatest need of God’s loving presence. This is not just about observing what needs to be done but actually participating in a way which puts that loving gaze into action. So, as you prepare for Lent this is a time where prayer, fasting and almsgiving call us not to be centred on ourselves but on God’s loving intent and what brings down the hard borders we discover around our hearts.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 7th February

The next obvious step

 Mary Mackillop was always looking for opportunities in which she could apply the teaching of the Gospel to the life of the community in which she lived. She saw an urgency which did not put the work of today in the hope of what might happen in the future. She was not one for rainy days in which action could be postponed when it was clear that she could make a difference at this moment.

As we read through the first reading from Job for this weekend, we can have an impression that it is just one thing after another. Yet I feel this misses the point he is making which is to be present to the situation we are in rather than seeing life as an endless progression of time in which we always anticipate something in the future but never experience it now. Paul takes this theme up when he talks about preaching the gospel not as a task to be fulfilled but a life to be lived. He saw himself as sharing his life with the people he met so that he could identify the graced action which was needed. In the same way, Jesus sees the immediate need and responds to it. When he discovers Simon Peter’s mother-in-law sick, he attends to her need for healing. She responds by showing her thanks by attending to his needs. It is this ability to see the need in the life of another which draws us to be people of healing and reconciliation.

The main thing in exercising these good works is not to draw attention to ourselves but to enable us to hear the Good News at work in our lives and the lives of ordinary people. It is by doing ordinary things extraordinarily well that we discover how God opens up our minds and hearts to the people in our square metre. To encounter them prayerfully and holistically. To see the person who is in need and to take the next obvious step.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 31st January

Listening to silence

In a world which seeks to make us busy, many opinions can be thrown us on a daily basis. I am often taken from the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep we listen to many different voices. These voices can often seem to be contradictory and pull us in different directions at the same time. In fact, it is this dis-ease which can not only affect our mental health but our physical health as well. If we try to please all the different voices, we find ourselves torn apart.

This is the importance of finding a place where we can listen to the silence within. This is not easy because we have often been taught that unless we are actively doing something, we are not worthwhile. Thus, we plunge ourselves into activity so that we can prove that we have purpose and meaning. It seeks to crowd out the empty spaces within us by having no spare time to be with ourselves. We don’t want to be seen to be wasting time doing nothing.

Yet it is this encounter with no-thing that is at the very heart of our prayer. It calls us to encounter our true self which is more than the things we do or the successes we achieve. The place where we have been loved into being. This silent place may seem to be a “waste of time”, but it may be the most productive place that we can encounter in each day. By allowing our prayer to draw us into a silence of being present to this moment we seek to integrate our day and become whole. Rather than being fragmented, we listen to the inner voice which brings healing and strength.

The need to be restored in prayer is essential as it brings to notice what heals us and brings wholeness. It allows us to be truly ourselves before God and each other. This restoration allows a balance which sees that in being present to no-thing we become aware of how God is present in all things. 

Fr. John Armstrong