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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

Fr John’s Reflection – First Sunday of Lent

First Sunday of Lent  – 1st March

Walking with Jesus

Our Lenten discipline is not so much an obligation but rather a time of formation when our hearts can be more open to Jesus in the concrete events of our daily lives. Our prayer is not called to become a recitation of words but rather a movement of the heart which seeks to live out a relationship which can sustain and transform us. This transformation is not solely for our own good and merit but rather to engage us in the daily mission of being present to Christ in others. This opening up of our lives allows us to see with the eyes of God which acknowledges that each person is made in the image and likeness of God called to be a steward of creation.

As good shepherds it is important to recognise that the world does not revolve around us. Thus, our fasting from food or behaviour is not just a self-improvement exercise, even though there are elements of this in any penitential action. Rather it is about an opening up to those areas of our lives when God’s light is called to shine more clearly. It is where we need to move from a life which focusses solely on what I want towards a life which is responsive to God in surrendering that which draws us into a deeper relationship with the whole of creation. It recognises that each action has consequences which either seek to centre the world upon ourselves or on sharing the good that we have received with others.

This is where the third discipline comes in. It is about establishing relationships which focus less on a person’s poverty than on our common humanity. It is about enabling the other person to develop the essential elements of their lives which can bring hope and love to their community. The charitable giving is about sustaining a relationship which is not just transactional or feels good but rather transformational. The giving is not just one way but rather calls us to receive the life of another as important as our own.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time

Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time – 23rd February

What is Lent about anyway?

As Catholics and increasingly among many Christians there is an intentional desire to come closer to Christ and to understand His mission among us. This is not just about accumulating a certain amount of information about his life, death and resurrection but rather an immersion in the vision of God’s Kingdom being lived among us. There can be a sense that this life is an apprenticeship for a “real” future life with God. The fact that Jesus walks amongst us and with us should quickly help us to see that God is with us in an eternal now. We are not just seeking a get out of jail free card to enter heaven and avoid hell. Jesus wanted for us to encounter the same living and loving relationship with the Father which sin can often obscure. There can be a sense that if only we tried hard enough, we would be able to see and hear clearly. Yet often the obstacles that we face dwell deep within us and cause us to dissipate that natural energy entrusted to us by God in follies of our own creation which distract, fatigue and diminish us. This is not God’s plan for us. There is a desire in God’s hearts for us to encounter a relationship which is so deep and so sustaining that even our worst sin cannot remove the fundamental truth that God has loved us into existence for a good purpose.

Yet Lent allows us to notice more clearly those things that burden us on the journey which God wishes us to be free from. This is not just a stoic exercise where we choose what to give up but rather a relationship which helps us to examen each day those areas in our life which help us to come closer and those things which feel like death to us. Ultimately, it calls us to fast from the things which have an addictive and counterfeit hold on us. Those things which scream at us and say you cannot live without this and still be normal. Yet Lent allows us to become more simple, to notice what actually brings life and what frees us to enter into a life-giving relationship with God, with others and with ourselves. Thus, when we fast it is not so much what we do but rather our intention to become a person who falls more deeply in love with God, with others and with ourselves. The penitential acts we undertake are not to centre attention solely on ourselves but rather on God. This will decide what we need to be free from (fasting) and what allows us a greater level of generosity (almsgiving). These are not acts undertaken solely on our initiative but out of a daily relationship with God and with our community in prayer. We cannot do this on our own. We need to journey with each other to discover the degree which God loves. Ultimately, he loves us unto death so that we may discover a new life. This is the whole journey not just a matter of routine or a “Catholic” thing. What we are seeking is to trust that our lives matter to God and that we are prepared to surrender every aspect of our lives to God so that we can live more fully.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time – 16th February

Wisdom: Learning to say yes and no!

I remember in reading one of Brene Brown’s book “Braving the Wilderness p33-36” she emphasises the importance of belonging more than just fitting in. The emphasis that she placed on belonging was the confidence in ourselves and what we believed in. When we just tried to fit in we surrendered our motivations to the person who we wish to please or at least not annoy! Our lives can become one of becoming tentative where we look for threats to our autonomy and those things that may harm us. Of course, there is a place for caution and considering our own safety but when it becomes exaggerated then we become imprisoned in a world where we become too scared to be ourselves for the good of others.

In the readings this weekend we are called to be wise in considering what brings life rather than death in our actions. This daily consideration looks to see how the Lord leads us into life and gives the ability to work for the good of others and not just for ourselves. This is a process of discernment where we learn what sustains life and what enables us to become wholesome and holy. This looks inside for our own motivations or interior disposition, not to judge the inner self but to discover what leads us to become our best self. Often our primary motivation, if we look at first glance, is the attitude of what is in it for me. There is a tendency to value things to the degree which they have benefits for myself. Yet to become wise we need to enter into a prayer which seeks values which are universal and serve the common good. The world is not centred solely on what I consider good but rather on how we are called to live in a way which brings about the greatest good. Each day we are called to consider what we say yes and no to. This will shape our lives either on the false self which seeks to preserve what little we have or the true self which seeks to the greatest good for me, for others and for the greater glory of God. This is how at the end of each day we can examen what we said yes and no to and how it is leading us into life!

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time – 9th February

Actions speak louder than words

We live in a world which is fed by a 24/7 news cycle which informs us very rapidly what is happening in our world. This can be both a blessing and a curse as it can move us into an attitude where we are consumers rather than participants in the world that affect our whole world. There can be a sense of passivity or worse still apathy or indifference which can descend upon us if we are exposed to too much pain. We know, however, that the reverse can be true when people responded generously around the world to the recent bushfire crisis. The donations have caused many organisations to be overwhelmed not only to act quickly but also justly in reaching out to those in most need. Yet how quickly the wheel turns and now our focus is on coronavirus and what may threaten our own health. There is a sense in which we can feel like a pinball machine where the machine lights up when the ball hits various buffers. Our attention is dissipated by events which are beyond our ability both to understand and control. This sense of powerlessness can seep deep within us and if left unacknowledged can spread like cancer through the soul. 

There is a need that often we can like our lives vicariously through the life of others. Their immediate need seems more urgent and pushes aside the important areas that we may need to attend to. When our world becomes driven by ongoing crises, we don’t find ourselves able to focus on what part we can play. We begin to transmit the pain of these crises on to others not only in our attitudes but also in how we carry ourselves through the day. Yet what is necessary is that we need to find a resonance between our felt sense and how that translates into action. This is not about saying many words but finding the Word that we are able to live by.

Our principle and foundation of what moves us into action help us to reflect each day on what is most important. It causes us to notice what brings life and hopes to others. Rather than becoming overwhelmed in trying to process how others react, we are called to notice how we can transform situations by listening to others and responding with care and compassion. During this week look at how your actions show you what is important in your life and how that speaks louder than any of the words we may say.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord – 2nd February

Offering ourselves to God

The celebration of the Presentation of the Lord known more popularly as Candle Mass allows the opportunity to notice how Christ brings light to our world. Often this happens at Baptism where we are immersed into the Christ-life and called to allow His life to be the guiding light of our lives. The focus of this feast is how our attention is drawn in anticipation that we will meet Christ even when he comes disguised as a little child totally dependent upon those around him. It is probably good to notice the characters who form part of this story.

First, there is Mary and Joseph who undertake what the law requires in bringing their child before God to be consecrated to Him. There may be a slight sense of irony here in that the one who imparts the blessing is the one they offer to be blessed. Yet in this mystery, we see how fully Jesus enters into our human life. He calls a blessing down upon us that we may allow Him to be at the centre of our lives. That he holds our attention and focus on who He actually is for us and with us.

Second, Simeon lays out how fully this life is missionary in character by the way he is called to bring light to all nations and gather people to Him. There is a recognition that his life enters into our most secret thoughts. There is nothing human that cannot be revealed and opened up before God. There is a sense of confidence that His life will allow others to rise from the oppression which can weigh down on them and love them into a deeper relationship with God. This is like a sword being plunged into us that we may lay our vulnerable selves before God without pretence.

Lastly, there is Anna who praises God with her life. One which is focussed on fasting and prayer so that her heart may be aware of how God is here with us. There is a sense of what she said about Jesus was pondered deeply by those who heard it.

For us, we are called to see how we make each day an offering to the Lord. How we are aware and attentive to where we meet Him. Where do our lives shed light and bring light to others? How do we help others to share what is most important to them and help them to gain the confidence to bring their secret life before God? How do we seek at the end of the day to give thanksgiving for who we are? Each day is an opportunity to meet Christ. Where will we meet Him today?

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

Third Sunday of Ordinary Time – 26th January

What makes us who we are?

What makes Australian? Is it the fact that we were born in a particular country or that we chose to migrate to this wide dry land? Was there a common bond that drew us to settle in this land and to share both in the benefits and challenges? In our current climate we are called to study the environment in which we live. This is not just about an analysis of the changing nature of our weather but also a deeper reflection on how we are called to listen to what will make a difference to the way we are present to this land.

Whatever happens we can no longer be passive observers of the world around us. The changes of the last few months have devastated communities and have caused widespread suffering. In the moment we reach out to those seeking to rebuild lives but also rediscover hope in the aftermath of this destruction. Yet there is also a deep felt need to engage with the reality in which we now live. The call is to discover what will shed light and not just heat on the situation. This is about what engages us mind, body and soul in working together. What will bring Good News to the situation. How do we live in a way which incarnates the Gospel which walks with people? This is what seems to capture us most, that we are all in this together. Go gently over the coming weeks and months ahead.

Fr. John Armstrong