Fr John’s Reflection – Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday – 7th June

Not to condemn the world but save it

Over the last week, there has been much which has focussed our attention on the civil strife in America. It has also drawn much commentary which seeks to understand what is happening and the potential fallout for the rest of the world. During the week I have been reflecting on Jacques Philippe’s book on the Beatitudes, The Eight Doors. In it, he talks about when choosing a response between force and love we should always choose love. This is not because we are doormats but because we seek to recognise the dignity of each person and it is only by loving what we consider unlovable that we can restore and reconcile the other. As we know hate breeds hate and violence breeds violence. As Odette Churchill noted after her incarceration at Ravensbrook it is easy to see how the parasite of evil can transfer between hosts to infect the whole world. While we are called to stand against violence and hatred, we should not become violence and hatred.

How then can we live Christian lives in times of uncertainty and fear? It is easy to see how we can be caught up in a polemic which only increases tensions and divides people one against another. It can be seen too easily in racism, nationalism or sexism. The ability to take sides seems to be somehow too easy. Rather than seek to build bridges it is easier to build walls. This shuts people out not just in manmade structures but also in the barbed wire we wind around our hearts which stop others from coming too close.

It is in this situation that we need to hear the words that Jesus came not to condemn the world but so that through himself that the world may be saved. In many ways we should, therefore, look at what unites us to live in peace with each other. This is a love which is blind to prejudice but aware of injustice which divides people against each other. At a time when it is very easy to withdraw into our castles to observe these divisions and protect ourselves from harm, we are called to see how the living spring water wells up inside us to draw people into a living relationship with God. We restore humanity by recognising what is most human in another, we acknowledge our divine calling when we see in the kingdom as dwelling within and between us. We pray for peace by becoming peacemakers.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Pentecost Sunday

Pentecost Sunday – 31st May

How do we fall in love?

I was particularly struck by some words from Richard Rohr in his book “The Naked Now”, ‘Authentic love is of one piece. How you love anything is how you love everything.’ (p127) What particularly struck me about this was it strikes me as being at the heart of the Gospel for this weekend. Those whose sins that are forgiven are forgiven those that are retained are retained. This constant challenge is presented to us in the Our Father. How we seek to love God is how we seek to love our neighbour as ourselves. This seems to be the non-negotiable element of the Christian faith. We are to be present to that authentic gift of the spirit which enables us to be lovable and loving.

So how do we enable this encounter in our daily lives? There is often a sense in which the Holy Spirit is considered a mysterious force than an encounter with a person. It is this ambivalent nature that causes us to relate more easily to a God who makes the rules or to a God who shows us how to live them out. It is much easier to see God as Father or God as Son. These two persons of the Trinity help us to understand images from our own life and upbringing. We live as a parent or as a child. Often we are conscious of how many of our relationships are grounded in these essential relationships. Yet the Holy Spirit allows us to encounter God on equal terms where God dwells deep within us. 

This encounter with the person of the Holy Spirit helps us to see how we have been gifted for the good of ourselves and the good of others. We are entrusted with a loving presence which allows us to be attentive and aware of who we are for others. This loving presence helps us to notice what brings life to our world and how we can be ever creative in the present moment. By becoming alert to what brings life to us and to others we notice how our world changes and is transformed. No longer do we seek to possess life but rather we surrender to life. This remarkable change enables us the freedom to be ourselves rather than some counterfeit image shaped by distorted seeking after love outside us. Once we recognise that we are both lovable and capable of loving our world changes and we become our true self. A person formed in the image and likeness of God.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – The Ascension of the Lord

The Ascension of the Lord – 24th May

I am with you until the end of time

The words that leapt out at me from this weekend’s Gospels are make, baptise and teach. My initial reaction was this seemed like an impressive ‘to do’ list. This great commission that is given to us is to make disciples, to baptise people in the name of the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit and teach all the things that Jesus commanded us. What this raises is that this is more than just a recruiting exercise but a desire to live a life which attracts people into a loving relationship with God.

The call to make disciples is not one which seeks to coerce people into following Christ but rather to befriend them. This takes the belief that our call to be people who are approachable is central to the way we live our lives. At the heart of our Christian faith is a person who seeks to draw us more deeply into relationship with God. This calls us to be people who are prayerfully present to the situations in which we live. The call is to become aware of what brings life to us and to others. When people see that we live our faith they will be attracted to ask us more. 

On any journey, we recognise that there is a desire to be in communion with each other. This is at the heart of our community that we are called together as a baptised people. We are baptised into a person who is at the heart of our living. This requires a certain dying to ourselves that we may be born into a life which will sustain us. The recognition that each person is gifted by God for the good of the whole community. They do not exercise an office or live a particular charism for yourself only. This may well be at the heart of how we become Church. Rather than noting the different callings in life, we are called to recognise how we are called to become one in Christ Jesus.

At the heart of this is the great commandment which is linked to the great commission. “To love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength and to love our neighbour as ourselves.” We are not called to become rugged individualists but rather companions who recognise Christ in each other. This is what draws us into a relationship with God and with each other. 

When this all seems too much and we feel that this may be hard work. Jesus reminds us that he is with us always. This allows us the freedom to discover how God is present to us in all times and all places.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – 6th Sunday of Easter

6th Sunday of Easter – 17th May

Who will bring us hope?

This seems to be the longest two months in history. Many of the things that people have taken for granted such as freedom of movement, public gatherings and group activities seem to have disappeared overnight. We start to connect more online with each other and in a way come closer even over the distance which separates us. Yet there is a deeper longing which sustains us which calls for us to hope in something deeper. This is especially true as people have lost jobs, battle with both their physical and mental health but also the sense of isolation. The truth that we seek is not paper-thin and we seek to discover something more than headlines and information, important as that may be, for helping us to make good decisions.

What seems fundamental in this time is which voices allow us to be formed and reformed in the image of Christ. This is not by just paying lip service to the Gospels but a genuine seeking to live as Christ intends. Our prayer and our lives have a divine interplay which forms the basis for who we are called to become. Our hope is not just based on wishful thinking that one-day things will get better. Rather we are called to be people who are well-founded in our faith. This means that we cannot just do this on our own. We need to be people who gather together in prayer to share our stories. These are stories which reflect on how the Good News forms how we respond rather than react to the world around us. It calls us to know what is actually happening in people’s lives and be prepared to listen with the ears of the heart. Not just to what is said but what the quiet inner voice desires. This may actually lead to a transformation of people’s lives.

This transformation is not just achieved by hard work. It is not just a simple following of the rules but rather a discovering of a rule of life which allows a person to journey with others. It calls us to become people who care for others and not just for ourselves. This is a way of abiding in the presence of God each day. This way of allowing each moment to open our hearts and our eyes to where God leads us allows us to become people of hope. No longer is our life just formed by what we do but who we are becoming. Each day allows us to be present in all that we are and all that we do.

Fr. John Armstrong

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