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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

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