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Fr John’s Reflection – 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 19th July

The Tolerant Gardener

I was struck by how when I look at the little garden I am cultivating under my window that the weeds seem to be more prolific than the carefully planted bulbs. I have the hopes of a wonderful floral display to greet me especially in these times of winter and COVID gloom which seems to loom heavily around us. What I have noticed, however, is that I need to be patient. While the grass seems to thrive and grow quickly the bulbs only hesitantly push forward the signs of new growth, tentatively waiting the welcome of warmer days. Even with the meticulous gardening, it seems that the grass continues to flourish and the flowers only slowly emerge into the sunlight.

When I turn to the reading of the weekend the difference between the darnel and the wheat is less obvious. There is a fear that if you pull out one plant you will damage the other. There is a sense in which we are called to observe and be present to the environment in which both grow. They both bring forth green shoots but only one produces a “fruit” which is desired. Only one can be made into a bread which brings life. Yet it is only by careful observation that we can distinguish the difference.

In many ways, it is similar to situations we notice in life. What seems to bring forward green shoots and fresh insights does not always bring forth the desired fruit. Yet in these situations, Jesus calls us to be attentive to what is happening and notice what actually leads to life. Often this can look as though we give permission to something rather than developing a tolerance which allows a person to be nourished by the Word planted within them. Just as in all growth we need to help a person distinguish what truly brings life and which nourishes their life and others. This calls us to be attentive, tendering and aware of how in being present we help another to grow closer to our Lord.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 12th July

The Careless Gardener

Over the weeks and months since we entered into the pandemic, I have a fresh appreciation of nature and creation. There has been a growing appreciation of how things grow even in the midst of terrible disasters. Going through some of the countryside ravaged by bushfires you can start to see fresh growth and green shoots emerging. Yet blackened trees still remind us of the ferocity of the fires that threatened many communities. While nature seems to recover the scars left on human hearts take longer to heal. This is not just the physical effort necessary to rebuild shattered lives but also the need to create a place from which our hearts will trust that we overcome the mental anguish we have encountered. This is not only in the lives of those directly affected but is vicariously shared by our common concern for each other. When we notice the effects of the pandemic, we can start to feel growing anxiety about what the future may hold.

Into the midst of this reality, we have the image of a God who throws out the Word with reckless abandon. God does not reserve it to the chosen few but seeks for it to be heard and seen by all people. This profound love which God bears for humanity is that all hearts should be able to truly see and hear that their lives have eternal worth. Also, it is not that this word is thrown out only once but there is a continual showering of that Word in abundance. The Word is called to be planted in human hearts and draw forth a response which is life-giving not just for the person but for the people who share that life with others.

Yet what can prevent us from seeing and hearing that Word in our own lives. We can allow it to be stolen from us by people who cause us to distrust that this is actually being spoken directly to our hearts. Then we notice a leap in the heart which catches our breath but then we do not rest with it to allow the Word to take us deeper. For many of us, the demands of daily life can cause us to seem to be on a treadmill where we seem that time is a relentless master which pushes us from one task to another. Yet in the midst of all this when we do take time to ponder scripture in prayer, we find that many of the tasks which seemed to overwhelm us can be seen in a new perspective and with fresh generosity. We can find our lives imbued with a fresh insight that brings life and hope not just to ourselves but also to others. There are signs that encourage us to take small steps which multiply the hope and love which appear miraculous. What God calls us to is reckless gardening where we throw out the seed knowing that some of it will take root and produce a good crop. The insight that our lives are lived for the good of God who is encountered in everyday life for our good and the good of the whole community.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 5th July

Come to me all you who are heavily burdened!

Often we feel that trying to find God in daily life can be hard work! Yet in the gospel reading for the weekend we discover a God who labours for us and with us. This discovery can change the way we see God at work in our lives. Too often we can set benchmarks that we need to achieve before God will either answer our prayers or recognise our efforts to be present. Yet what is remarkable is that God turns the tables and calls us to discover that there is nothing more and nothing less that will allow us to be loved in the core of our being. God graces us each day with an amazing attentiveness which simply calls us to surrender what burdens us so that we may cooperate with that divine prompting and guidance.

Maybe a simple practice that we can stay with each day is to say to God: Thank you, Help Me, Guide me, Love me, Walk with me. These simple steps notice that we are called to have grateful and generous hearts, that we are not called to be people who seek help when we need and seek guidance when we do not know the way. In the midst of it all, we are called to discover who loves us not so much because of our successes but our willingness to share our life with others. At the heart of our pilgrimage is that we discover the person who walks with us and accompanies both in the highs and lows of life.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 28th June

Nurturing the holy

Many of us have an intuitive sense of what makes for a holy person but we find it hard to give expression to this in words. They speak with words which are heard by the ear of the heart and seek to articulate our deepest longing for God. This is not something that we can manufacture or produce but rather it is an invitation to participate in God’s creative plan for us. Often the holy person is discovered in the ordinary events of our lives. It is that innate sense that in believing that God communicates with us through everyday graces that we discover that God does not leave us orphans.

In the Gospel, it is that attention and hospitality which sees the holy in each person we encounter. By providing a simple glass of water to a stranger we may entertain a saint without knowing it. The discovery is that the knowledge is not something that we just pick up from books but rather an expression of who we know ourselves to be. In seeking the holy in each day, we transform not only those we meet but also those who encounter us. It calls for us to be present to the ordinary tasks of our day with an abiding spirit which builds up the other.

We also know that it is in these simple acts of surrender that we encounter the source of our life. It may feel at times like little deaths where we deny ourselves to consider another. Yet in this way we acknowledge that our lives are not centred upon just our own desires but on God’s providence to be present in our actions. The central question is who do we nurture when we sit down at the table? We do not feed simply on food but on the presence of the one who joins us. God comes to us disguised as our lives.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 21st June

 Telling our truth to the world

In reading through the newspapers over the last few months there has been much which has sought to elicit the opinions of people. Not least these have focussed on the pandemic and social unrest in the United States. There has been a tendency to shine the light on what others consider urgent without discovering its importance. We are told what to think or at least align ourselves whichever side seems to be most sympathetic to our world view. This can often produce more heat than light as the friction created by debates doesn’t seek to resolve the issues but actually inflame them. In a time of isolation, we also find ourselves polarised by these opinions rather than being enlightened to consider how we live in times of uncertainty.

Yet we are not called to retreat into caves and become hermits. We are affected by events in the world and the way we live matters. There is a call to acknowledge how the events that surround us do have an impact on our lives. However, it also calls us to reflect on what environment we create in response to these events. What is it that we consider essential and what is periphery? We don’t want to become lost in viewpoints that we do not hold or prejudices which seek to divide us. This calls us to be people who do consider what history has to tell us and how our thinking is not just based on a knee jerk response. We are called to be people who are open to what brings life to ourselves and to others. In the midst of this reflection, we can decide what is the next obvious step for our good and the good of others.

The truth we are called to proclaim is not just something we can take down from the shelf and parrot to one another. It calls for an active engagement which is based on our own prayer, study and action. The way we build the world is founded on small acts done with great love.  It calls us to be people who are present to the Living Word in our daily life. Neither do we isolate ourselves from the terrors that seem to oppress but we do not seek to be overwhelmed by them. We are called to be people who seek that calmness and peace in the midst of the storm which besets us. This is not just undertaken through will power but a surrender of our lives to God which enables us to engage with the world as we are not as we think we should be. It allows us to tell our truth to the world.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Feast of Corpus Christi

Feast of Corpus Christi– 14th June

Eat to your heart’s content

One of the ways which we are called to trust another is to sit down and have a meal with them. This is not only sharing their company but a reassurance that we will not be ill-fed or be poisoned by what we eat. In an age of Master Chef and many adverts tempting us to not be satisfied with what is placed before us, we can be tempted to look for greener pastures or for something which will nourish and sustain us beyond our usual fare. We can become expectant that somewhere out there that a meal awaits us which satisfy us. Our palates can become bored with which what seems every day and mundane when there is evidence that more delicious meals may be served elsewhere. 

Yet in the course of everyday life, we find that our imagination and reality may differ. What we want and what we need is held in a balance of what will nurture both body and soul. There is a need to notice not only what we eat but also the person who prepares it. We are not called just to become consumers of food but people who develop relationships around a common table. Much as when we travel to and from our work, we are called to become pilgrims, not tourists. This allows us to become aware that who we meet along the way is as important as the destination that we travel to.

As we gather to celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, we can notice that the person we meet is not just the person we consume. The emphasis is not solely on the host and the chalice we receive but the person we enter into a deeper relationship with. This intimate moment of sharing wholly the life of another is not just a physical act but a spiritual encounter. We are called to become one with Him who shares himself in the simplest gifts of bread and wine which become His Body and Blood. The heart of Eucharist is that we become one with Him as he becomes one with us. This sense of communion helps us to live in a different reality. It allows us to discover how God is encountered in every day and in the simplest events. By seeking God in the midst of all things we discover that our ordinary lives can become extraordinary and a blessing for our world. We are transformed by the very person whom we receive. 

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday – 7th June

Not to condemn the world but save it

Over the last week, there has been much which has focussed our attention on the civil strife in America. It has also drawn much commentary which seeks to understand what is happening and the potential fallout for the rest of the world. During the week I have been reflecting on Jacques Philippe’s book on the Beatitudes, The Eight Doors. In it, he talks about when choosing a response between force and love we should always choose love. This is not because we are doormats but because we seek to recognise the dignity of each person and it is only by loving what we consider unlovable that we can restore and reconcile the other. As we know hate breeds hate and violence breeds violence. As Odette Churchill noted after her incarceration at Ravensbrook it is easy to see how the parasite of evil can transfer between hosts to infect the whole world. While we are called to stand against violence and hatred, we should not become violence and hatred.

How then can we live Christian lives in times of uncertainty and fear? It is easy to see how we can be caught up in a polemic which only increases tensions and divides people one against another. It can be seen too easily in racism, nationalism or sexism. The ability to take sides seems to be somehow too easy. Rather than seek to build bridges it is easier to build walls. This shuts people out not just in manmade structures but also in the barbed wire we wind around our hearts which stop others from coming too close.

It is in this situation that we need to hear the words that Jesus came not to condemn the world but so that through himself that the world may be saved. In many ways we should, therefore, look at what unites us to live in peace with each other. This is a love which is blind to prejudice but aware of injustice which divides people against each other. At a time when it is very easy to withdraw into our castles to observe these divisions and protect ourselves from harm, we are called to see how the living spring water wells up inside us to draw people into a living relationship with God. We restore humanity by recognising what is most human in another, we acknowledge our divine calling when we see in the kingdom as dwelling within and between us. We pray for peace by becoming peacemakers.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Pentecost Sunday

Pentecost Sunday – 31st May

How do we fall in love?

I was particularly struck by some words from Richard Rohr in his book “The Naked Now”, ‘Authentic love is of one piece. How you love anything is how you love everything.’ (p127) What particularly struck me about this was it strikes me as being at the heart of the Gospel for this weekend. Those whose sins that are forgiven are forgiven those that are retained are retained. This constant challenge is presented to us in the Our Father. How we seek to love God is how we seek to love our neighbour as ourselves. This seems to be the non-negotiable element of the Christian faith. We are to be present to that authentic gift of the spirit which enables us to be lovable and loving.

So how do we enable this encounter in our daily lives? There is often a sense in which the Holy Spirit is considered a mysterious force than an encounter with a person. It is this ambivalent nature that causes us to relate more easily to a God who makes the rules or to a God who shows us how to live them out. It is much easier to see God as Father or God as Son. These two persons of the Trinity help us to understand images from our own life and upbringing. We live as a parent or as a child. Often we are conscious of how many of our relationships are grounded in these essential relationships. Yet the Holy Spirit allows us to encounter God on equal terms where God dwells deep within us. 

This encounter with the person of the Holy Spirit helps us to see how we have been gifted for the good of ourselves and the good of others. We are entrusted with a loving presence which allows us to be attentive and aware of who we are for others. This loving presence helps us to notice what brings life to our world and how we can be ever creative in the present moment. By becoming alert to what brings life to us and to others we notice how our world changes and is transformed. No longer do we seek to possess life but rather we surrender to life. This remarkable change enables us the freedom to be ourselves rather than some counterfeit image shaped by distorted seeking after love outside us. Once we recognise that we are both lovable and capable of loving our world changes and we become our true self. A person formed in the image and likeness of God.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – The Ascension of the Lord

The Ascension of the Lord – 24th May

I am with you until the end of time

The words that leapt out at me from this weekend’s Gospels are make, baptise and teach. My initial reaction was this seemed like an impressive ‘to do’ list. This great commission that is given to us is to make disciples, to baptise people in the name of the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit and teach all the things that Jesus commanded us. What this raises is that this is more than just a recruiting exercise but a desire to live a life which attracts people into a loving relationship with God.

The call to make disciples is not one which seeks to coerce people into following Christ but rather to befriend them. This takes the belief that our call to be people who are approachable is central to the way we live our lives. At the heart of our Christian faith is a person who seeks to draw us more deeply into relationship with God. This calls us to be people who are prayerfully present to the situations in which we live. The call is to become aware of what brings life to us and to others. When people see that we live our faith they will be attracted to ask us more. 

On any journey, we recognise that there is a desire to be in communion with each other. This is at the heart of our community that we are called together as a baptised people. We are baptised into a person who is at the heart of our living. This requires a certain dying to ourselves that we may be born into a life which will sustain us. The recognition that each person is gifted by God for the good of the whole community. They do not exercise an office or live a particular charism for yourself only. This may well be at the heart of how we become Church. Rather than noting the different callings in life, we are called to recognise how we are called to become one in Christ Jesus.

At the heart of this is the great commandment which is linked to the great commission. “To love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength and to love our neighbour as ourselves.” We are not called to become rugged individualists but rather companions who recognise Christ in each other. This is what draws us into a relationship with God and with each other. 

When this all seems too much and we feel that this may be hard work. Jesus reminds us that he is with us always. This allows us the freedom to discover how God is present to us in all times and all places.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 6th Sunday of Easter

6th Sunday of Easter – 17th May

Who will bring us hope?

This seems to be the longest two months in history. Many of the things that people have taken for granted such as freedom of movement, public gatherings and group activities seem to have disappeared overnight. We start to connect more online with each other and in a way come closer even over the distance which separates us. Yet there is a deeper longing which sustains us which calls for us to hope in something deeper. This is especially true as people have lost jobs, battle with both their physical and mental health but also the sense of isolation. The truth that we seek is not paper-thin and we seek to discover something more than headlines and information, important as that may be, for helping us to make good decisions.

What seems fundamental in this time is which voices allow us to be formed and reformed in the image of Christ. This is not by just paying lip service to the Gospels but a genuine seeking to live as Christ intends. Our prayer and our lives have a divine interplay which forms the basis for who we are called to become. Our hope is not just based on wishful thinking that one-day things will get better. Rather we are called to be people who are well-founded in our faith. This means that we cannot just do this on our own. We need to be people who gather together in prayer to share our stories. These are stories which reflect on how the Good News forms how we respond rather than react to the world around us. It calls us to know what is actually happening in people’s lives and be prepared to listen with the ears of the heart. Not just to what is said but what the quiet inner voice desires. This may actually lead to a transformation of people’s lives.

This transformation is not just achieved by hard work. It is not just a simple following of the rules but rather a discovering of a rule of life which allows a person to journey with others. It calls us to become people who care for others and not just for ourselves. This is a way of abiding in the presence of God each day. This way of allowing each moment to open our hearts and our eyes to where God leads us allows us to become people of hope. No longer is our life just formed by what we do but who we are becoming. Each day allows us to be present in all that we are and all that we do.

Fr. John Armstrong