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Fr John’s Reflection – 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 8th November

Running on the smell of an oily rag!

 There can be times in life when we just keep on going through an interior motivation to achieve a particular end. Yet we can also be conscious of feelings of tiredness, discouragement and at times being overwhelmed by the world around us. Yet there is a sense that in being present to these feelings with honesty and compassion we can show the same to others. We start to notice that the world does not revolve around me but in a relationship which sustains us to become our true self.

In the parable of the wise and foolish virgins waiting for the bridegroom’s return, we start to notice our own way of being present to life. We can become aware that the end that we are striving for seems to be a long way off and we can start to sleepwalk through activities. Yet the wake-up call is how we respond when we are most in need to be present. Do we become attentive to our own situation and our ability to respond with faith, hope and love or do we notice what that moment may demand of us and shy away from responding? There is a saying that history is made by those who turn up. We are called to be aware that our presence and response makes a difference to the good of God, the good of others and the good of ourselves.

When so many things can seem to point towards bad news we can choose to be known as a person who responds with life and love to the situation we find ourselves in. We are called to be creatively present with our lives in nurturing that which brings life. In this way, we stand ready to respond in ways which notice the promptings of God to be people who pray, reflect and act for the good of our world.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – All Saints Day

All Saints Day – 1st November

Called to be saints

We are used to the process of elections where we seek to choose the person we believe is best able to govern on our behalf. The process of choosing the right person causes us to notice both their words and their actions. We seek not only to understand who they are, but we also weigh their ability to work for our benefit.

Yet God calls us all to be saints. Rather than just choosing one person he sees that all of us are called into a life-giving relationship with God. God seeks us out that we may discover our capacity to be holy. This holiness is lived out in ordinary ways for the good of God. 

The saints remind us that while each of us are gifted we can choose how we use these gifts. They are not solely for our own good. In helping us to centre our lives on God’s loving presence we notice that we see our lives differently.  We see ourselves as cocreators with God. Each day provides the opportunity for God to pray in union with us. God seeks us out with a love so intense that we can become saints.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 25th October

The Golden Rule

 If there is one thing which unites all of humanity it is what is considered the Golden Rule: To do good to the other that you would do for yourself. It is at the heart of our welfare system and seeks to ensure that each person is respected as a person made in the image and likeness of God. Yet the reality of how we actually live that rule can cause tensions to arise not only in its application but also in how we see the other person as equally deserving of God’s grace. Much of this is contained in the declaration of human rights which seeks to preserve what is vital to human life. We seek to share the world’s goods and preserve the environment not just as a gift for ourselves only but for generations yet to come. This is where the difficulty of living this rule arises because it calls us to notice that its application depends on where we are standing.

I believe this is where the rule to love God with all our heart, all our soul and all our mind allows noticing what is important for us in life. The order of discovering what is placed on our heart orientates us towards what we consider vital for our lives and what we think about and apply our minds to. It is from this point of view that we start to notice what it is that we love and how we love ourselves into being. At the heart of the matter is the need to ensure that our hearts and our actions are in accord with each other. When this happens we naturally seek the good of ourselves as influencing the good of others. We no longer live for ourselves alone. We see the value not only in what we do but in the contribution it can make to the common good.

So at the heart of prayer, reflection and action we need to consider what is the next obvious step that we can make for the good of ourselves and the good of others. In living this out we make small but profound changes to the way we live in the world. No longer do our lives centre solely on what we need but on what God desires for the good of all. Our lives make a difference in helping others to live well.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 18th October

The Piper plays the tune

 Each of us from time to time would be concerned about our financial wellbeing. We are called to be people who do not live beyond our means but also become accountable for how we spend our money. This is one of the difficulties in many settings at the domestic level, in our local parish community, in the policy of the government and in the way we act as good stewards of the things entrusted to our care. In some cases it can seem that money dictates what we can and cannot do in life. Yet in reality, it is only a tool which can help us to recognise our priorities and what we truly need. 

In modern life, we are often “sold” an image of ourselves or of the perfect life. We can rely very heavily not just on what is in favour but also what seems to add value to the person we are. This can at times seem elusive and ethereal. Just as we buy something because of its looks or its utility we find that it never works like we see on tv. We seem to fall for the dream of the perfect body, the perfect home, the perfect family and ultimately the perfect life. The danger that we encounter is that these dreams seem fleeting and can be disrupted or interrupted by events beyond our control. These times reshape our thinking and call us to consider what is truly important.

At the heart of the Gospel is not that we abandon our daily activities or our responsibilities to our communities but that we see them in the right perspective. We are created in the image and likeness of God to cooperate with that creative vision of building the kingdom. This is not just an external structure or a home run into heaven but rather a disposition of the heart which informs, forms and transforms our way of being present to our world. It sees the centre of our life shaped in God’s creative vision for humanity which promises faith, hope and charity as the KPI’s of our lives. These are difficult to measure but essential for lives. They shape who we wish to become and where we spend our time and money. In this, we daily seek to encounter God in our prayer so that we can encounter each person as a graced moment. There is a capability to see that God is present in each encounter enabling us to grow in faith, hope and love.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 11th October

Not just any invitation

 There is usually great excitement when we receive an invitation to a wedding especially if it is someone we know well. The anticipation building up to the day is not only about buying the right gift or wearing the right clothes but rather the sense that we will witness the commitment of a couple who love each other. There is a recognition that the commitment they make is not only for their good but for the good of the whole community and future generations. They promise fidelity to each other and a responsibility to care for others. The sense of the commitment between a man and a woman is the mutuality between all of humanity which becomes evident not just for the good of the couple but so that God’s love may be manifest in the world.

The wedding scene in the Gospel for this weekend takes an interesting twist on this familiar story. In fact, it is those who are invited who not only refuse to attend but actually take it out on the messenger. In this, the King is being portrayed as so angry that he not only dispatches those who treated his messengers so badly but insists on bringing in anybody to celebrate the feast that has been prepared. There is the insistence that what is offered is not only for the chosen few who believe they have no need to attend. Yet we can still wonder about the person without a wedding garment. I think that while good and bad people are press-ganged into the celebration there needs to be a response on the part of the person to a change of life. There is a need to be receptive to what is on offer.

In these COVID times when we become used to limited numbers able to attend Mass on Sunday and the need to be a social distance from each other, this Gospel stands as a stark reminder of a God who seeks us out before we seek God. There is a recognition of that while we may see a distance between us and God. Where the everyday events can seem to take priority over our lives God seeks to bring a deeper meaning to who we are called to be. The central message is that our life is not just something to be done but a reality to be celebrated. At the heart of this message is a belief that God will always seek us out whether we are ready or not. The question is that when we are invited to enter into that life-giving relationship how will we respond?

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 4th October

Becoming pastors not managers

 Pope Francis in speaking to priests reminded them that they were called to be pastors not managers of the parishes in which they lived. The difference that he was pointing to was that in one case we focus on managing people and resources entrusted to us in the other we look at how God is present in the place where we live in caring for people and what most allows them to build the kingdom. The emphasis seems to be at the heart of these weekends readings on whether we own the product of our labour or whether we see it is as a gift given to us to be used wisely. I feel that this is the tension that we are called to exercise in our daily life: how do we notice the practical needs of those around us but also our attitude to responding to those needs.

I believe there is something within all of us which wants to be recognised and rewarded for a job well done. This is the natural place of thanksgiving and gratitude which lies at the heart of human living. Good things are entrusted to us for the common good. Yet there is also that subtle voice which says this is mine and not another’s work. We can become careful about what we share that someone may steal our good name or our good work as their own. We build fences to keep our ideas and our efforts secure. This does not diminish the reality that a person deserves a just reward for a just day’s work. Yet it is the suspicion which can cause us to possess the gift entrusted to us and see it as our own.

We are called to be people who find meaning in our work. Yet our work is not the sole judge of our character, important as it is for our own welfare and the welfare of others. What is more important is that we are called to be people who are in communion with each other. This communion reflects a deeper reflection that we are called to be in communion with God. It is present in many of our fair work acts, in our care for work, health and safety, in the safety net for those without productive work. Yet at the heart of the matter is how we notice the good of the other. In seeking their good as well as our own we are able to produce good fruit. This allows people to discover that the fruit is both material and spiritual in sustaining life and giving glory to God. Our work is not an end in itself but an expression of God’s bountiful love, that in labouring for others we cooperate with God’s creative plan.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 27th September

When we say yes what do we mean?

 What we say yes and no to shapes our life. Our choices influence the person we seek to become. They indicate what is our preference and help us to notice what most draws our attention. Yet in our society, we live in a culture which seeks to have us say yes to everything for fear that we will miss out on something. This fear of missing out seeks us to be present to all things with the same level of attention which can often leave us fearful and afraid. If we choose one thing that means that we miss out on something else. We fear been left behind or not having enough interesting stuff to talk to other people about. We feel that there is a drive to be self-sufficient, altruistic and magnificent all at the same time.

Yet if we give our yes’s too easily, we can notice that there is only so much time in the day to dedicate to what we do. We start to cram activities and to-do lists into every corner. We measure our success by external indicators which consume our lives and our attention. Yet in the end, we can be tired, exhausted and directionless until we find another task to be undertaken. The call I believe is to ponder on what is essential and what builds life-giving options for ourselves and for others. 

Who are we called to become? This seems to be the central question. By weighing up not just what we say but in how we become present to our choices, this helps us to see who and what is central to our lives. Which voices we listen to, what creates our best self and what enables us to be present to the needs of others. When we say yes too quickly, we notice that we create masks from people knowing our true selves. Yet when we notice our reluctance or resistances, we can ponder more deeply what is the right thing to do not just for ourselves but for others. 

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 20th September

Answering the call

 There can be times when we seem to work hard in the heat of the day and wonder what our reward will be. This can be especially true when others seem to benefit from the work we perform. I believe our attitude to our work changes how we work. I am reminded of the story of three street cleaners who were asked why they performed their work. The first said it was so that he could receive a pay cheque at the end of the week and enjoy his weekend. The second said it was so that she could support her family and offer them some security. The third said he saw himself as improving the environment of the place in which he lived to create a spirit of welcome to those who lived in his neighbourhood. All of these three had legitimate expressions of what motivated them into the work, however, the last one saw that his work was focussed almost solely on the needs of others.

In the same way, I believe we need to discover what we fall in love with in life. This will determine how we spend our day and what “reward “we seek for our labour. It also changes how we respond to the labour of others and relate to people who serve us. The essence is on building healthy relationships which allow us to work well. In the end the person finds dignity in their work and in acknowledging the contribution of another we find a spirit of thankfulness emerging in our life.

As Pedro Arrupe wrote:

“Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love 

In a quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with,

what seizes your imagination,

will affect everything.

It will decide

what will get you out of bed in the morning,

what you do with your evenings,

how you spend your weekends,

what you read,

whom you know,

what breaks your heart,

and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in love, stay in love,

and it will decide everything.”

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 13th September

Making peace with ourselves

 There can be times when a person or an event can cause deep resentment to stir within us. This may be disproportionate to the situation but it can well up in us like acid or a volcanic eruption waiting to burst forth. It is important at these times to allow us the room to notice the anger and bring it before God in prayer. Some psychologists would notice that our angry reaction can last but a moment but our response can last a lifetime. This is why it is vitally important that when we notice this strong passion rising within us that we allow God to befriend us in prayer.

Anger often has a history which is a safety measure which allows us to protect ourselves from danger either to ourselves or to another. We do not become angry about things that don’t affect us or harm something or someone that we treasure. The importance then is to notice that our working through our angry feelings means that we need to give ourselves the space to resolve our own internal reactions. This should be done apart from the person or the situation which has caused us anger. Untamed anger can become our enemy which can unleash inner violence which does harm to us or to another. Anger which is befriended allows us to make constructive use of that passion for the good of another as well as ourselves.

What is strongly associated with anger is noticing both the facts that lie behind it but also the attitude that we have towards the world. At the heart of the readings are the words of the psalmist, “The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger and rich in compassion”. What is essential is how having acknowledged and befriended these feelings we notice that we are not called to plan vengeance but seek forgiveness for ourselves and for the other. This is not so that we do not acknowledge serious injustices but that we allow us to notice how each person is called into a living relationship with God and with another. The two go hand in hand. We become people who build relationships of trust and healing. This is not just a simple panacea but rather forgiveness which is heartfelt and life-giving. When we do not allow God’s forgiveness to be at the heart of our lives our anger can be like drinking poison hoping the other person will die! 

If you are in the midst of a dispute as you read this take time to dwell with God about how you are present to yourself and the other. Be honest, be creative but ultimately be open to compassion for yourself and the other. In so doing we replace the feeling that we are called to be a doormat by becoming a welcome mat. A person is hospitable to others as we seek to befriend ourselves.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 6th September

Where two or three are gathered

 One of the strengths of our Christian faith is that when we are gathered even in the smallest numbers Christ is present in our midst. Yet it is the purpose of our gathering which is to love God and love our neighbour. As Paul notes in the letter to the Romans that love is the answer to each one of the commandments as it cannot hurt our neighbour. The question then becomes how does our love become manifest.

In the Gospel of Matthew, this talks about how we seek to reach out to our brother or sister in loving concern not only for their wellbeing but for the good of their relationship with God. Often, we can sense that God is solely directed by our own agenda and what we consider to be important. Yet we often need to meet with others to listen to God’s voice, to seek what will bring freedom and not cause harm.

Similarly, in the prophet Ezekiel, the listening to the word of God is not just for our good but for the good of the other. In the words of the psalmist, our prayer becomes, “O that today you would listen to his voice! Harden, not your hearts.” So, this is not just correcting a person but desiring them to encounter God who directs their actions. Once again, we hear echoes of Paul where it is a loving concern for another that changes hearts. This should always be at the heart of our prayer that we “avoid getting into debt, except the debt of mutual love.” When we have an agape unconditional loving which is not solely for our own advantage or promotion of our interests God abides with us and directs our actions.

Fr. John Armstrong