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Second Sunday of Advent – 8th December
The immanence of Christmas can cause us to
start to plan with the end in mind. Our activity while being focussed on that
event can distract us from what is happening at the moment. The preparations
can all seem present to something that has not yet happened but which we
anticipate. It is in this sense of anticipation that we can miss the everyday
events which make the journey worthwhile. When we hurry towards the destination
we can forget who we are travelling with and why we are seeking to arrive there
quickly. Maybe it is time to hasten slowly!
Each day is not just to be struck off the calendar as one day less to go. We are called to see what is happening within us as we search for who we long for. What brings meaning and substance to our life? This is a time where we can look at what Christmas and the coming of the Christ child mean for us. What is it that we are looking for and how do we see ourselves more clearly?
With John the Baptist this is a time when we are called to notice what holds our attention and whether this assists us along the way. We are called to be people who are open to the promptings of God and to let go of the things that bind us too strongly. May we become people who travel lightly and freely towards God. May the joy which rises in our hearts disturb us with a peace the world cannot give.
Fr. John Armstrong
First Sunday of Advent – 1st December
We start the first Sunday in the same way we finished the liturgical year. We are called to be aware and awake of how God is present to us in our daily lives. This can be especially important as we journey towards Christmas. The season of Advent often becomes lost in a relentless sense of activity which seeks to wrap up the year with attention to exterior activities. I start to lose myself in attending to expectations and pressures which call me to attend to things that seem to be outside our control. It could be as simple as trying to find a car parking spot close to the place we will make our next shopping expedition. It can be the dilemma of knowing who we should send cards to and whether are greetings are truly heartfelt for the good of the person. There can be a variety of pressures which cause us to overcommit and overspend.
What may be a useful practice is to consider where the Word of God is called to read our lives. Maybe as a small group or even on our way to work, we can listen to how God wants to plant seeds in our hearts. This allows us to make room for the variety of ways in which God wishes to greet us along the way. It may allow us to pray for the person for whom we will shop or send a card, the consideration that allows our hearts to become attentive and alert to what is happening rather than what we think should happen. It calls us to allow the opportunity to notice what will bring life.
Then at the end of each day, we can review our lives to see what brings life and what overwhelms us. By attending to what is happening in the everyday. By allowing how God meets us disguised as our lives we notice how we always begin at the end!
Fr. John Armstrong
Feast of Christ the King – 24th November
This weekend we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. In a world where the idea of the monarchy has diminished to a ceremonial role and leadership is found in the form of democracy, dynastic rule or in the cult of personality, we can lose sight of who we are called to become in Christ. The form of leadership that is put forward talks about being in power, being spectacular and being relevant. The focus moves off the office and onto the person occupying the office. We are then bombarded by opinion polls which tells us to the degree to which that person’s leadership is acceptable rather than a consideration of how they are called to be at service. When this focus shifts significantly we start to recognise that no one person can fulfil all our desires which are beyond their human capacity to achieve in their own lifetime!
It is against this reflection on leadership that we start to notice how Christ leads from the midst of people and their everyday lives. He seeks us out first, that we may discover the truth of who we are called to become. The Kingdom is not something to be discovered and established outside of ourselves but rather a gentle invitation to be at home with him and him at home with us. This desire to enter under our own roof as we so often hear at the time of communion is a recognition that we are worth the effort. This means Jesus meets us in our failures as much as our successes, in our sickness as much as in our health, in our wealth and in our poverty. This meeting is not just focused on our circumstances but on the heart of our life which meets us with an intense desire to be present in all things and in all situations.
So in our own time what is the leadership we seek? Many issues seem to come to the fore as things which compete for our attention. Even over the last week, the relationship to the environment we live has been debated and many have called for fresh vision and insight. We hear many competing voices which speak about the information about how the climate is changing and we struggle to respond in a way which balances our own needs with the impact that we do have on the world around us. In many cases, the emphasis is on how our intervention is needed to provide remedies to a world which has the perception of falling outside our control. However, I believe that the leadership that is needed is to recognise that we are called to be stewards of creation, not masters of the universe. We are not called to dominate the world around us and conquer it by force to bend to our will. Rather we need to listen to how we are called to become at one with each other and with God in cooperating with the natural world. We are called to be co-creators with God. Since we have received all things as a gift, we should treasure what has been entrusted to us. Not to be exploited solely for our own ends but rather used wisely with respect for all creation of which we are part.
Fr. John Armstrong
33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time – 17th November
We live in a world where the opinions of others matter deeply. We can become fascinated by the latest developments whether they be about finance, politics, fashion or sport. Part of the fascination can be motivated by a deep interest in a particular aspect of life and how it can help us to give expression to who we are. Yet too often the opinions can just become chatter which prevents us from becoming more deeply engaged either with the person who is speaking or what they are speaking about. It just becomes background noise to an already crowded world vying for our attention. What is more difficult is the intrusiveness of technology which can start to notice what we are paying attention to and give us more of the same. Whether it is a search engine, an electronic device or a social media page we can find our direction being channelled into unexpected avenues and our ability to reflect being influenced by the amount of material on offer.
In such an information-rich environment how do we choose what to listen to? There can be a constant diet of bad news or misinformation that we find it hard to filter out and reflect on what is truly important and valuable. We find that people play with our emotions in ways which can cause us to react rather than reflect more deeply on what actually brings us life. We can be fed with a diet which is not truly nourishing and which does not settle well in our stomachs. There is a sense that we become consumed by what we hear rather than listening to a deeper truth.
This is where we need to look at what brings life and purpose to us. Where do we find meaning which is substantial and life-giving? This is where we need to work for that which brings hope, faith and charity into our life. This is called a rule of life which is not about rigid discipline but rather a way of reflecting on who I am and what I seek to become. The simplest example is the ancient command echoed by Jesus as the golden rule, “Love the Lord with all your heart, all your mind, all your strength and all your soul and your neighbour as yourself.” This allows us each day to reflect on how we live this ancient truth which reflects that when we come close to God we come close to others and close to ourselves. We become people who live in a communion which seeks to be present to the God of all creation not the gods of our own creation.
Fr. John Armstrong
31st Sunday of Ordinary Time – 3rd November
A God of mercy and justice
When we encounter situations which cause us difficulties which cause us to suffer or which cause us harm our immediate cry can be for justice against the person who has caused this event to occur in our lives. We want to see external resolution before we can internally forgive a person. Justice not only has to be done but has to be seen to be done. Yet what we discover is a God of mercy and justice. The ordering of the phrase is important as it helps us understand how God draws us into a life-giving relationship. We need to experience ourselves as loved sinners rather than as redeemed servants. The first recognises that God reaches out to us when we believe that we are of little worth and want to hold God off at a distance. The second is often more attractive because if someone pays the price at least we can try and work off the “debt”. The difference is that if we rely solely on God’s mercy, we start to see every aspect of our life being viewed through the vision of God who seeks the best for ourselves even when we do not choose it. In granting mercy, we can start to see that we are not the centre of the universe and it allows us the opportunity to see how our lives matter to God and to others. No longer do we try to privatise our relationship with God or with others in the terms of a divine transaction or earning credit points to salvation. Rather it is a more radical shift which recognises that all good things come from God and all good actions are prompted from that life-giving relationship. Our life moves in and out of this communion which notices that every action seeks to build the kingdom of God.
In this way we can approach life not as paying off a debt which has already been paid but rather a sustaining and life-giving relationship which calls us to abide with God each day. No longer do we focus solely on what we are doing but rather on who we are called to become in Christ. It is through this life-giving relationship that God sits down with us even when we notice we do not live up to our own expectations of “holiness”. God spends time with us so that we can capture his heart as he captures ours. It is about a constant surrender and yielding to that divine touch which prompts us to respond tenderly and justly to those in greatest need around us. Its focus is that every action seeks to embody that presence of the person who walks close by our side.
Fr. John Armstrong
30th Sunday of Ordinary Time – 27th October
One of the temptations of the Christian life is to believe that we win God’s love by what we do rather than who we are called to become. If we believe that our goodness is judged by the number of good acts that we perform then we will only be judged by our last good act. We will also start to believe that our relationship with God is based on transactions rather than relationship. We become hooked on a spirituality which is as transparent as our fly buy cards or the number of reward points that we have collected. We can start to treat God in the same way by bargaining our way through life by saying something like, ” I have done all these good things, now I would like this to happen in my life”. We also start to make comparisons with others especially when from outward appearance their life does not appear to be as holy and devout as our own. We can start to see God as our own personal friend who deals with us exclusively on our own terms.
Yet the reality that we discover is that we are called to be good in spite of all the struggles that we encounter in life. This includes our own internal struggle to live a life which responds to the grace of God in a way that does not just focus on my own goodness. The heart of the spiritual life is to recognise that it is God who loved us first and who wants to enter into a relationship as we are at the moment. This is especially true when we experience our own failures, sinfulness, addictive behaviour and lack of vision. We come before God not because we are perfect but so that we can be perfected in God’s love for us. This calls us to notice that our holiness does depend solely on our good acts as though it can be achieved through our own effort. Rather it is a discovery that God wants to work with us each day to strengthen a relationship which enables us to undertake good actions which flow out of that enduring relationship. In this way, we discover the freedom to be ourselves and creativity which glorifies God with our whole life. No longer do we engage in God acts because they will bring rewards in the future which guarantee our salvation, we engage in God acts because they are an expression of God’s love for us and our love for God and for others.
In this way, we discover a humility which does not diminish us but enlivens us to walk with God each day. It allows each day to be a gentle surrender to God’s providence to provide what is needed and how we can be present to others. It is an open-hearted response which says yes to each day to the people I meet and the work that I undertake with love and compassion.
Fr. John Armstrong
29th Sunday of Ordinary Time – 20th October
In this weekend’s readings, we can see the image of Moses combating the Amalek’s. When he raised his hands up they were victorious but when he became tired they started to lose heart. So, Aaron and Hur sat him down and kept his hands raised. In a similar way, the poor widow keeps coming before the unjust judge demanding justice where he seems to be worried almost to death! Lastly in his 2nd letter to Timothy, Paul insists that we reflect on Holy Scripture for refuting error, guiding people’s lives and teaching them to be holy, both welcome or unwelcome.
Often this is the dilemma that we confront in our modern world where we are called to accommodate our teaching to suit the audience that we are addressing. Preaching one Gospel to one group of people and another Gospel to the other. What we are called to preach is the same person who is Jesus Christ who leads us into a deeper relationship with God through him. This is where we are called to be people who respond in faith to His voice. This means that what we read in scripture may well challenge us to understand how God draws us into a life-giving relationship which sustains all our relationships. This Good News is not of our making but rather a living Word which draws us into a way of life which builds up the reign of God. Each day we need to turn to scripture which is not a dead letter but a wellspring of hope from which we can draw strength and encouragement to be sustained on our journey.
As I read during the week in 1 John 2.3-6, “Anyone who says, I know him and does not keep his commandments is a liar, refusing to admit the truth. But when anyone who does obey what he has said, God’s love comes to perfection in him. We can be sure that we are in God only when the one who claims to be living in him is living the same kind of life that Christ lived.” What strikes me about this passage is that I have often thought this passage was about intellectual or emotional assent to the truth of Christ, rather it is a surrender to the truth of God’s strength which we allow to enter in. When we hold up barriers against the truth of God’s love we try to do everything under our own strength. Yet when we turn in our weakness to God and make this honest prayer, “God give me strength” we open the door to the grace which floods in and allows us to see our life with God’s eyes which is more loving and transformative than our own. We are not called to be self-reliant but rather people created in God’s image and likeness.
Fr. John Armstrong