Easter Sunday – 12th April
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
Palm Sunday – 5th April
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
Fifth Sunday of Lent – 29th March
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
Forth Sunday of Lent – 22nd March
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
Third Sunday of Lent – 15th March
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
January – February 2020OMCC-2002
Second Sunday of Lent – 8th March
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