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Fr John’s Reflection – 5th Sunday of Easter

5th Sunday of Easter – 10th May

Living Stones

We can often admire Churches which give us a sense of God’s presence. They provide us with the place where we find ourselves truly present to the presence. At a time when often our Churches are closed there is not only a sense of physical distancing but also a sense of spiritual loss. Churches are not just places where we gather for worship, but they are visible reminders of how God is called to be at the centre of our living.

Yet in the midst of this distance, we also recognise that the Church is made up of living stones. A building never exists just for itself but as a visible sign of a living reality. As Christians, we recognise how our lives build on the foundations that have been placed before us. We discover that over the ages Jesus has invited people to discover Himself as the Way, the Truth and the Life. By seeking Him in all that we do and all that we are we find our lives take on eternal meaning. We are called to notice how God is present in our prayer and in our daily lives.

Sometimes, we can share the questions raised by Thomas and Philip. Thomas wants to know the carefully crafted plan that we are called to follow. A roadmap which will guide us clearly on the way. Yet Jesus says that it is a relationship with him as the guide which enables us each day to take the next obvious step that we are called to take. In a similar way, Philip wants to see the way clearly and to discover God, face to face. Yet Jesus once again points to himself. In seeing Him we see the Father.

This is part of our daily mission to see with the eyes of faith the opportunities that God gives us to discover how to live out our pilgrimage of trust. This is to discover what way reveals to us the truth of God’s love to us and enlivens us into action. Each day is a fresh opportunity to acknowledge that God is with us.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 4th Sunday of Easter

4th Sunday of Easter – 3rd May

Being known by name

One of the most important parts of our lives is the name we are known by.  It not only creates our identity but allows us to respond to those who call us. Yet our name is used in many different contexts. In this modern age with advanced technology, people can use our name for their good either to sell us something or to convince us to buy into their opinion. Especially in this time of social distancing, it is possible to be lured into buying something or settling for another’s opinion simply because they seem to know something about us. In the age of advanced algorithms, a person can take our interests to their hearts for their good rather than our own. I am very conscious of this with some websites which review purchases and seem to understand what we want before we do! This makes us very vulnerable to those who want to profit from our desire for intimacy and to be known.

Yet the Gospel of this week paints a very different picture. It does not look for recognition outside us but an intimate knowledge of who we are. In fact, this is part of our pilgrim journey and good friendships. This is about spending time with another not because of what we can get out of it but simply to be in the presence and company of another as ourselves. In fact, this is what prayer seeks as well. Prayer is not about creating a shopping list but rather attentiveness to God as we are and God’s awareness of ourselves. In many ways, we look at God and God looks at us. This time does not have to be multilayered or complex it is just a simple surrender to the God who is as we are. We are befriended as we are, not as we think we should be.

When we have this familiarity of listening to the voice that seeks the best for us and leads us into good pasture, we seek it more and more. This daily listening not only sustains us but leads us to trust in God more deeply. We start to recognise this voice amidst all the voices which can besiege us. There is a longing which burns within us and guides us to respond naturally to the life we have been given. Especially, at this time we are called to enter into that inner room which sustains us and enlivens us to be present. No longer are we called to be afraid but to seek God in all things and in all people.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 3rd Sunday of Easter

3rd Sunday of Easter – 26th April

Were not our hearts burning within us?

In this age of social distancing and the difficulty in gathering as a community in prayer, we have often become the smallest of communities travelling in pairs. There is something important about sharing time with another and listening to our own stories and expectations. So often our prayer can seem like an internal dialogue with myself which can create the impression that I am just talking to myself. This can be especially prevalent when we are socially isolated from each other. We need somebody to listen to us to share our concerns, worries, dreams and hopes. In allowing what is inside to emerge in our conversations we start to feel less alone and we can start to work out what is true to ourselves and what can be created by our own fears. There is a need to have a person who we can walk with who can share the pilgrimage with us. 

The unusual element to this is that when we take this as a prayerful encounter a hidden stranger comes to accompany us. A person who truly listens to what most deeply concerns us and who meets us where we are on our journey. Yet this is not just a silent presence. In this environment, we can be drawn deeper to discover how our story becomes part of a greater story. The acknowledgement that each person is called to be a part of this story and that we are called into a deeper sense of encounter with God.

Especially when we seem to be in times when Churches are closed and it is possible to think that we are walking away from what is familiar and comforting, Jesus still sits down with us and breaks bread. In many cases, this may be through the virtual participation in Masses and a sense where we are in communion even though we cannot see or hear the other people we normally participate with. It helps us to see that our hunger is not just for receiving communion but being in communion. This longing which seeks to share the life of the person who gathers us into a relationship with God who is at the centre of everything. As we have this time where we start to know where our hearts burn within us with a deep desire for Eucharist we also form a deep desire to be together in prayer, to have the scriptures broken open for us and to see Christ in each other. Even for myself when I celebrate Mass it is this anticipation that feeds me not just with the Bread of Life but with the deeper hunger that Jesus calls me into a life-giving relationship which sustains us in communion. In this midst of the prayers we hope for this deeper longing to become a new Pentecost for us.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 2nd Sunday of Easter

2nd Sunday of Easter – 19th April

In the upper room

The period of Easter opens up to surprises and to new life. The very experience of spending large parts of our time at home for fear of the COVID 19 virus gives us more time than we would have expected in reflecting on the direction of life. What brings us meaning and who do we pin our hopes on? In a time when political leaders and medical experts seek to advise us on ways of looking after each other, we are also called to ponder what brings meaning to our lives.
Just as when the disciples locked themselves in the upper room out of fear, Jesus came and stood among them offering peace and the gift of forgiveness. He called upon them to not be afraid. In an age where we often rely on seeing is believing, we can stand with Thomas who insisted that he would not believe unless he touched the Lord’s wound and experienced his very presence. Much of the similar commentary can come to us in these post-Easter times. How do we know what is real and what can sustain us? In many cases, it seems as though we have to fall back on our own resources and our own creativity to connect with God and with each other. This is especially true where our usual union with a sacramental life is socially distant from us and can be seen but not touched. This loss of touch is a profound separation when we realise how much of our life is nurtured by our connection with each other. We often rely on that face to face contact which engages all the senses. The difficulty even of connecting online is that we miss the smell, the taste and touch of being in another’s presence. This is why so many meals have been a common form of celebration because it is not just focussed on the food we eat but on the company we share. 

Thus, in these times of isolation, we need to discover how to connect with each other which makes good use of zoom or other social media. This is not just about seeing and hearing but trying to make it a more sensual environment which draws in a common activity which we can share. This may take some organising to share similar food at a similar time. To taste, smell and be in touch with a common experience. I know some now have virtual celebrations where while separated they can share time together. Others are sharing music, have exercise classes, prayer time and meditations. These ways of connecting allow the physical walls to be penetrated by others who care about us and who we are called to share our lives with. In many ways, it reminds me of the appearances of Jesus which occurred almost simultaneously around the world. He was able to be present to many people in different ways at the same time. This may be one of the blessings of this time. Our ability to connect and our desire to be present has never been greater. Also, when we have time on our hands, we move the emphasis from just our work to our reason for gathering which enables us to work closely together. This may be a time where two or three virtually gathered together notice that Jesus is present in their midst.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday – 12th April

Who do we stake our life on?

When our lives are turned upside down and our usual activities are disrupted, we can wonder what on earth is happening? The COVID 19 outbreak has impacted on many of the things we take for granted: popping over to see friends, enjoying a pleasant meal, watching our favourite movie at a local cinema or even gathering to play sport. Yet the more immediate impact is how we work and care for each other. The fact that many people have shifted to carry out everyday activities in the home can bring unique challenges. The reality is that the home has become not just a place to live in, but a place to work, to learn and to socialise with those in the household. The reality is now there is no distance between these separate activities and it can take a certain amount of renegotiation to recognise the times that we engage with each of these different activities. This calls for a good level of communication for things which were often part of our daily routine which called us to be elsewhere but now call us to be here in this place together with those who share our household space.

We are also called to pray and reflect with each other. Our life is not just determined by what we do but who we become in our doing. This way of becoming is not easy with immediate pressures of maintaining a household and responding to financial pressures. The last thing that we can feel that we have time for is doing what appears to not produce immediate responses to pressing need. Yet how we are present to God, to each other and ourselves has never been more important especially during this week where we celebrate the Paschal Mystery. While there is a social distance between time and space these events have a pivotal impact on who we are called into a relationship with.

As we walk through this Holy Week, we accompany Jesus and see how his whole life was given over to the love of God, love of self and love of neighbour. When he was faced with the ultimate question in the Garden of Gethsemane, he did not run away from himself. He was able to accept that who he was determined what he was prepared to live and die for. This was not an easy decision, in fact, he wept blood which showed how this was not just a determination of his own will but rather was a commitment of his whole self. He loves us to death. This allows us to notice what he considered important enough to suffer the rejection of others, the betrayal of friends and the bearing of grief. He sought in all things to be what he was called to be.

I believe we see the same commitment in our own time when we see health workers, emergency workers and people in essential industries sacrificing themselves for the good of others. In this time, it calls us to ponder on who we are and how we can become what God calls us to be in this particular time of history. Some would look at circumstances beyond their control and start to believe that we live in the end times. Yet we always live in the reality of the last things, death, judgement, heaven and hell. Yet it is how we live for the sake of God’s kingdom which dwells within us that can sustain us and make us whole. The story is more about how we become Holy and respond to this life-changing event in our Christian history. The Paschal Mystery does not end with Jesus’ death on the cross but rather in a time of waiting and maturation where we listen to the voice which will sustain us. This time of Holy Saturday calls us to see Jesus not just in the externals of life that we have become used to in attending Mass, praying the Office and celebrating the sacraments. It also calls us to see how we internalise these celebrations as a place where a treasure is found within. The pearl of great price which sustains us through many uncertainties. As we await Easter Sunday, we are called to be open to the unexpected encounter with Christ who conquers death and draws us into a new life. He asks us anew who do we stake our life on?

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday – 5th April

Keeping the lights on

I was woken up in the middle of the night with an idea about how we could celebrate the Easter Vigil and Palm Sunday. People are coming up with ideas about how we can express our faith when we are unable to gather in groups of more than two people outside of a household. One suggestion for Sunday is placing a palm on our front door and praying through the gospel passage of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Another session is that over the Easter Triduum you actually read the gospel passages at the time when the events occurred. This would allow for a more meditative approach to the being present to Jesus as he journeyed through his passion. Then on the vigil at 6pm maybe light a candle or a torch in your front window for an hour and pray the exsultet that the light may be kept burning in our hearts or even rising at dawn to welcome the rising of the son! As in all things please be assured of my prayers during these difficult times. 

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Fifth Sunday of Lent

Fifth Sunday of Lent – 29th March

Jesus Wept!

I believe that the story unfolds in two ways which address both our hearts and our minds. In addressing Martha and Mary they make the same comment, “If you had been here our brother would not have died.” They receive two very different responses. Martha is engaged with at the level of faith and belief which draws to us our attention to our eternal worth. Mary is engaged with at the level of hope and charity which seeks out the person in the midst of their suffering. It is through our prayerful engagement with the reality expressed by both of these women that we discover freedom which is focused on life more than death. It calls us to discover peace within us which not only values each human life, but which also values our own. In these difficult times, it is often possible to focus on material external things rather than discovering a treasure which lies within us. We are called to be people who are able to each day come to silence so that we can be open to God and to each other. By looking for that silent still place we notice how we transform not only our own hearts but also the hearts around us.

Over the next few weeks and maybe months we can often become caught up with what the news agencies and the government provides us with, the welfare of our community and ourselves. In isolation, we need to be well informed so that we are able to care for ourselves and each other. Yet in that isolation, we also need to find creative ways in which we can be connected. This is important so that we do not become trapped by our feelings of being overwhelmed. There is a call to notice how even in the most difficult circumstances we can become a people of faith, hope and love in the way we are present to God and to each other. 

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Forth Sunday of Lent

Forth Sunday of Lent – 22nd March

Beware of Schadenfreude

In the midst of any crisis, it is possible to become blinded to what is in front of us. This is certainly the story which we are focussed on in this Sunday’s Gospel. The man born blind is cured by Jesus and is able to see. What we discover is that in recovering his sight, it reveals the blindness or the prejudice of others. The first question revolves around whether the blindness is hereditary and based on a sin committed by the person themselves or by his parents. Jesus recognises that this focusses on the wrong question. Physical suffering is not propagated by God as a punishment for sin. Rather it is in the person’s physical sickness that God may be seen to be at work.

The second question centres on whether we can experience healings within the community which restore people to full health. Here the emphasis is that a change in a person’s health can have an impact much more broadly than on the person, it changes the heart of the community to see the person differently. They can no longer be defined by their sickness, they need to be seen as a person in their own right with inherent dignity.

The third question is that if God is at work in the life of this person, how does that change our understanding and experience of God’s presence. What happens when we face the unexpected is, we reference what we experience based on what we have already learnt. Yet in the face of new realities, we need to be open to growing in our understanding and our openness of where God touches our lives. We are called not to rely on existing paradigms which seek to confine God’s merciful love for all people.

Yet in our own time, it is possible to see elements of blindness or myopia which see each crisis in the terms of how it affects our own lives. We need to be cautious that we do not see this either as God’s judgment on the world, a way of isolating people due to their sickness or more seriously questioning how they can grow in a relationship with God. This is a time when people can quickly reference the situation based on their own understanding of the Church or Society or both. Yet we are called to be open to God’s presence in all things and seek what ways we can see this become manifest in our everyday lives. We need to discover creative ways in which in our physical isolation we do become isolated from God or from each other.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Third Sunday of Lent

Third Sunday of Lent – 15th March

Where do we find the oasis in our life?

There is often a desert of good news stories in our lives. The impact of the bushfires and the recent outbreak of the coronavirus have served to identify the places where we are most vulnerable. They cause to focus on situations which seem beyond our control and which can overwhelm us. This is not just in addressing the physical and psychological impacts on our lives but also where we find the wellsprings within us. There can be a sense in which these events can cause us to retreat into ourselves and isolate ourselves from the world. We start to view each other with suspicion rather than friendship. We are called to take precautions for our own health and the health of others, but we need to examine how our behaviour can shift us to become more self-centred rather than other centred.

During Lent, there is the common discipline of fasting, almsgiving and prayer. The question is whether we are ready for the situation when this may be forced upon us due to compulsory quarantine restrictions as in Italy or whether we become used to these quiet pauses in our day where we can reflect on where God may be at work. This is a time where we are called to see what the true wellspring of hope, faith and love is.

The power of intercession at this time for the communities directly affected by the virus is important, but it is equally important that we notice how our own response may be life-giving. There is a need for us to develop a common purpose to develop ways which identify and support what is needed within communities. What are the creative ways in which we can help people to identify the wellspring of life which dwells with them? How do we listen to their stories and help them to become part of the grand story of eternal life?

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Second Sunday of Lent

Second Sunday of Lent  – 8th March

Will my name be a blessing

When people speak our name does it bring a blessing to others? There is importance to being recognised by name. There is a sense in which the use of the name is not just the sound but also the tone with which it is used. What we notice is that our response to the other is often guided by how we are drawn into a relationship with the other. The name is something deeply personal which shapes our own identity and helps us to notice our own self-worth. When our name is associated with something positive, we feel good about ourselves. In the same way when it is used in a negative way, we can feel the world collapsing in on ourselves. What is important is that we need to hear our name called out as a blessing by God. That what we have been created for is for something good and that we have been loved into being.

When we encounter this for ourselves, we start to use the name of others not just as a way of identifying them but as a discovery of how they too have been blessed into being. This willingness to use another’s name is not just about recognition but it is a desire for a relationship to be formed between two people. This is the smallest of communities which are echoed in Jesus’ call that where two or three are gathered in His name He is present in their midst. This daily encounter with others causes us to reflect on a world which would often prefer we were nameless rather than discovering our true self. 

The use of the name is, therefore, central to our daily life. It says that this other person has intrinsic value and worth. Often this can be a difficult discipline to remember each person’s name and some of us need prompts to call them to mind, even if it is writing down where we met them and with whom. Yet when we bring that person before God in prayer, we seek a bond which is deeper than words. It becomes a place where each person’s name is called to become a blessing.

Fr. John Armstrong