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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

Fr John’s Reflection – Fourth of Advent

Fourth of Advent – 20th December

Waiting

 Patience is a virtue but at times when we are time-pressured, it can be put to the test. The last-minute activities prior to Christmas can even seem to test the best of us to maintain a steady pace and a peaceful demeanour. As the days count down, we can sense the anticipation of what Christmas will mean for this year. The chance of reunions but also the reliving of old memories can resurface. In this expectation, we need to remember that we need to remain present to the spirit of God which sustains us. We are called to be people who are prayerfully aware that the world is centred on God’s creative initiative.

It is in these days of waiting that we can encounter Mary who seeks to respond to God with a yes which has practical consequences for her life and the life of each one of us. As she seeks to ponder what her fiat means she seeks to understand how God is at work within and through her. In many ways, the way she encounters God helps us to listen more carefully to how we are greeted and how we respond to others. Do we open our hearts to listen to the moments when we are deeply in union with the whole of creation? It is these moments that can stop us in our tracks and help us to see our lives differently.

As we journey in these last few days before Christmas take time within the hustle and bustle of daily life to listen to what brings life, what brings hope and what brings joy to your life. In all things give thanks.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Third of Advent

Third of Advent – 13th December

Be Happy at all times

 “When faced with trials put on a happy face!” There can be a sense that when Paul writes to the Thessalonians there is a sense of being overly optimistic or covering up the difficulties we face with a false smile. I believe what Paul is actually asking of us is that we pray at all times and in all situations. This takes on an attitude which seeks to become a person of thanksgiving in whatever situation we find ourselves.

Yet this is not always easy as Paul notices we need to listen to the Holy Spirit to help us discern what is good from what is bad. This calls for a considered response which not only prays but also seeks to reflect on the environment in which we live and the actions that we are capable of performing. This calls us to be people who do not retreat into our own private world but seek to be holy in the place that we live. This is not manufactured piety but rather a lived expression of God’s love for the world.

Each day we are called to notice what aids us in growing closer to God and to others. God helps us to notice the hidden graces which transform us and our world. In this way, we bear witness to the spirit of the Lord which brings good news to the poor, binds up hearts that are broken, which seeks freedom to those who are held imprisoned by their way of life. The call is to become people who imbibe the Spirit and live our life with hope for the good of the world.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Second of Advent

Second of Advent – 6th December

Writing Straight with Crooked lines

 Walking through the shopping centre the other day it was hard to believe the hardships we have been through and that much of the rest of the world is facing. There was a distinct feeling of deja vu. That people were shopping, preparing for Christmas, making plans and organise trips to visit families and friends. Yet in the midst of all this activity, there is still a feeling that this Christmas will not be like the ones before. There is a call to discover something which will sustain beyond the immediate commercial reality and to discover a deeper meaning for our lives.

I believe we see this in the figure of John the Baptist. He sought to prepare people’s hearts and minds to see more clearly how to live their lives. This was not just repentance from sinful behaviour and attitudes but a true desire to encounter God in our everyday lives. There was searching for those graced moments which transform us and transform our world. They are moments which allow us to encounter the mystery of our own creation in the person of Christ.

As we journey towards Christmas it is this deeper entry into the mystery of each day that we encounter God’s living presence. There is a sense in which we are disturbed in the way things from how we perceive them to be to actually how they are. It calls us to notice those graced moments which we encounter each day. It is the scripture of God’s Word written on the face of our world and reflected in how we receive that message. As we go about our daily tasks let us pray that we see the face of God in all things and in all people.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – First of Advent

First of Advent – 29th November

Guiding Star

 Over the last few weeks, much attention has been focused on the results of the US Election. This has not just caused us to reflect on the electoral process that has taken place but also the varied standpoints which have emerged about whether the result was free and fair. In many cases, this has depended more on which side of the fence one sits rather than on the facts. It appears more than an opinion about those facts has greater credence than the facts themselves. It appears that truth becomes a disposable commodity which counts for little in an era which has thrown doubt on what actually constitutes news. In the midst of the turmoil which has resulted in questions being raised in what and whom we should believe. There is a danger in a post-modern world that truth becomes whatever we want it to be rather than having an inherent value in itself. In a world in which power is vested not so much in belief but rather in external force, we see people become easily disorientated and disengaged with the very process which seeks to give them a voice in their governance. When we do not trust ourselves, we can notice how quickly chaos and disorder can follow.

Yet into this maelstrom, we begin the season of Advent which focuses on the coming of Christ into a disordered and chaotic world. A world which tended to focus on the external expression of belief rather than on an interior conversion of heart. The question of what we believe becomes transformed by the person who meets us in our disbelief. We find ourselves transformed by a person who speaks to the heart of our life and to the heart of our creation. In the midst of the confusion which we have encountered during the year, he seeks to bring a peace which disturbs us with love and joy. This calls us to see the whole of creation with an abiding loving presence. The call to see the whole of creation giving birth to God’s plan for our salvation.

This message is never more prevalent than in a world which is focussed more on the use of power rather than stewardship of what has been entrusted to us. Old wounds have been quickly opened and can fester if left untreated. There can be spirits that rage within us which seek to promote division and anger. The geopolitical map has shifted and fractured in a way which has happened so quickly that many fear the return to old conflicts left unresolved. Yet this is where we need to listen to the Good News which seeks reconciliation between people. This reconciliation is hard-won and easily lost. It seeks a forgiving spirit which finds its origin in God and not solely through our own will power.

What we seek is not cheap grace which covers over the cracks of humanity with a false balm. It calls for individuals, communities and nations to discover not just what divides us but rather the deeper values that abide within us. What makes for peace is listening to a narrative which is more than just our perception of the other but rather listening to the heartbeat which works for the greater good of all. God enters into our human story to bring about this deeper listening which meets our deepest longing not just our wishful thinking. In these days of Advent, we are called to listen for whom will become our guiding star.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Christ the King

Christ the King – 22nd November

Who will I be when I die?

 As we near the end of the Church’s liturgical year we are called to remember the four last things: death, judgement, heaven and hell. This is something which is seldom preached on and when it is memories of those who recall the Redemptorist mission can remember people having the fear of God-driven home. There can be a sense in which this reality needs to be reflected upon as it shapes who we seek to become in life. Rather than a fear of future reward or punishment, a greater emphasis is placed on how we are present to God in this present moment. This is not an exercise in just receiving enough credits in life to outweigh our debts rather it is the orientation that we seek our life to take.

In the readings for the day we see six of the seven corporal works of mercy: clothe the naked, feed the hungry, quench the thirsty, welcome the stranger, visit the sick and befriend those in prison. The seventh relates to praying for the dead. What they sum up are not a to-do list but rather a disposition of heart which sees the needs of those around us who are made in the image and likeness of God. It recognises that our spirituality is incarnate. How we seek to be present to others especially those in greatest need reflect on how we see God present in the world. We are called to be people of faith, hope and love not just in our prayers but also in our actions.

The focus is always on the person which proceeds the action. In this way, we do not marginalise the person by their need but rather we restore their dignity to be in right relationship with the whole community. We acknowledge that we are called to see in the other, especially those who are on the margins, the face of Christ. This comes not through an obligation placed upon on us but rather who we seek to become. In this becoming, our actions flow naturally out of a lived expression of our prayer. Our hearts, minds and our bodies unite to attend the needs of the poorest within our community.

The heart of a community is shaped by how we treat the poorest within our society rather than how we reward the most successful. In caring for each person, we seek their fundamental worth not just their utility. In this way, we build up a culture of life which builds the realm of God in our own time. This is by asking the fundamental question who will I be when I die?

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 15th November

Many Gifts, One God

 Each day is a new day when we can give thanks to God for the gift of life. Especially as we move towards Advent and the end of our liturgical year this can become a time of review. Where do we notice we are spending our time and what brings faith, hope and charity to the life of others. A gift or a charism is entrusted to us for the good of the whole community so that they may be drawn into a living relationship with God. We thus become stewards of these gifts rather than becoming people who own them. They are given to us for a good purpose so that others may encounter God.

There are many different charisms, but they all have the same end. They help us to notice and become aware of how God is present to us in the everyday circumstances of life. The three signs of a charism are that it has a feel of being in prayer to which we can give ourselves freely, it is of benefit to the spiritual and material good of another, and it has a felt sense of drawing us deeper into a living relationship with God. This is the reality that we can do ordinary things with amazing grace and presence.

So, the three things I would suggest for us to examine is not just how we use our time but whether we allow it to be a way of being prayerfully present to others. Does it bring us the freedom to be ourselves rather than just becoming a task to be fulfilled? Each moment allows the opportunity to become aware of how God is present in all things and for them to become moments of thanksgiving. As we journey through this next week may we discover the God who walks with us on our journey?

Fr. John Armstrong