18th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 2nd August
In times of the pandemic, there are two fundamental questions about how we spend our time and how we spend our money? The spiritual exercise of looking at our diaries and our bank statements can often tell us more than we are prepared to notice. They help us to know what is informing us and influencing who we are as a person. We know that many of the search engines and social media accounts often use what we are regularly accessing to show us adverts that may seem to be pertinent to our age or interest. There can often be a sense of how did they know what I was thinking. In fact, in this age of modern technology, the search engine can often predict where our interests are leading us and give us more of the same. But what they cannot tell us is what is happening within us? Am I just consuming things and wasting my time or is what I am attending to helping me to grow as a person?
In an age which seeks to promote reaction rather than reflection, it is important that we notice how we are being led to make certain choices. Often these choices can seem to be small, but they can influence the person I become. What is it that I seek as being central to my life? This is not necessarily about finding the right answer but rather noticing what prompts me to act in one way or another. I believe that this could easily be summed up in the question does this bring me life or not? This may seem to be very self-centred, but it is rather looking at what gift has God planted in my heart that can be shared with others. If my life is not moved by love for God and the way I live, then we can easily become people who are shaped by events beyond our making. We fail to see the opportunities which are uniquely ours to share the goodness of God in the place where I am called to be present.
This brings me to how we recognise that God has already provided us with what we need to make the next obvious step. There can sometimes be a hesitancy to step out because we do not feel we have enough or that somebody else could do the thing we are considering with greater expertise and professionalism. Yet when we listen with our hearts, we start to discover what is necessary for this day. By offering everything to God not only are we transformed but so are the things that we offer. The ordinary becomes extraordinarily fruitful. This is not so that we draw attention to ourselves, but we grow in the trust that God will provide what is needed for this day and this moment. In the very act of surrendering our day to God, we discover that we can offer our whole self to produce abundance which fills us and satisfies us. This is not by having more than enough but discovering that our lives matter to God and to our community. Together we can find that our lives are blessed and are a blessing to each other.
Fr. John Armstrong
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 26th July
Solomon prays for the gift of service for himself into seeking to discern between good and evil in the service of others. In fact, it is one of the reasons we need to pray for the people who offer leadership either in government and in the Church. This calls us to be able to reason with our minds and test the inclination of our hearts to consider what is the right and good thing to do. In fact, it is this balancing of doing the right thing with good intentions that guides us to know how our life makes a difference for the wellbeing of others. This calls us to be people who pray with all our hearts, who reflect with attention not only to our opinions but to the wisdom of others and act in a way which embodies what is true to ourselves.
The call to prayer is not just to say prayers but to notice what is moving us towards a choice. This calls us to see whether in the first stage our direction is towards doing good or doing evil. By noticing what is happening in our hearts we can consider whether we feel disturbed, angry, afraid or anxious. This lack of peace calls us to become dissipated into many different ways of being present which seem to tear us apart. They draw us away from a feeling of unity and communion both within ourselves and with others. These are often signs that the bad spirit draws us into a conflict which is destructive not just of ourselves but also of the other.
The good spirit is very different. It can help us to notice the inner conflict within ourselves but seeks to navigate the destructive feelings that well up inside us. It helps us to notice first that feelings can be naturally present to each person but they can become a fruitful place from which we can have a conversation with God. They can help us to see that our prayer calls for honest self-evaluation of what feelings lead to life and those that do not. It also allows us to talk to a spiritual companion to sift what is happening in our relationship with God. In essence, this is not by seeing these feelings as alien to our sense of being but allowing them to be brought to the light. This allows us to see how we become constructive in our engagement in the world.
I feel that this is the wisdom that Solomon prayed for. It was not to remove himself from the world but to notice how he could be a person who could bring a sense of balance and equanimity to his considerations. He sought to seek not just what was good for himself but the good of the whole. This was by listening to the stories that people wished to tell him from their own perspective. However, it was not wishing to be influenced solely by that perspective but the motivation that was behind the telling of that story. Was it told for the personal advantage of the person, was it to address a situation which demanded justice for the whole community or was it to reveal the desire of God for the person? These are never easy decisions but a person who helps another to discern listens to the story and also where a person may be guided in the telling of that story. Any discernment seeks to take the next obvious step in the story of a person and our community.
Fr. John Armstrong
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 19th July
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
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 12th July
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
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 5th July
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
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 28th June
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
12th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 21st June
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
Feast of Corpus Christi– 14th June
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