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

Fr John’s Reflection – Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Proclaim the Gospel with your lives!

Second Sunday of Ordinary Time – 19th January

Where do we see Christ at work in our lives? Our prayer and our actions are called to raise our awareness and attentiveness to this question. This is a sense of anticipation that Jesus walks in our midst, often unseen, and prompts us to notice where we bump into him on a daily basis. This openness to discover how God is present in our daily lives allows us the possibility to notice what truly centres us as people of faith, hope and love. It changes our outlook to see as God sees and to notice what God notices in our daily lives. It calls us to become people who become co-creators with God by enabling moments of grace which transform our lives and the lives of others.

Particularly as we live through one of our worst bush fire seasons we hear many stories of heroism and generosity. There is a resilience in the human spirit which naturally reaches out to the other in a way which seeks to bring life to another. This daily call allows us to notice how God is at work in our midst on a daily basis and allows us to be open to the promptings of the spirit. On 26th January we will commemorate the effects of the bush fires on our communities and how this can be a moment of solidarity which seeks to bring life out of the ashes.

Yet we also need to pause to reflect on what deeper issues bind us together for the good of God, the good of others and the good of ourselves. How does this experience shape our nation and our souls? What is it that we seek together and what is God calling us to listen to? These questions are the backdrop to our current experience and speak to us of how the Plenary Council helps us to become more responsive as individuals and communities to the prompting of God’s spirit. May we journey together in faith, hope and love bring the light of Christ to our world.

Fr. John Armstrong

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

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord – 12th January

Baptised into Christ

One of the most significant events of the Christian life is one that many people will not remember unless they have been baptized later in life. As we know baptism is efficacious, that is that it achieves in the life of the person what the sacrament intends. A person becomes one with Christ and one with the Christian community. This often has the fancy title of bringing about an ontological change in the life of the person. Yet I am struck that this choice often made by the parents of a child when they were a baby needs to be affirmed in the life of the person as they grow older. It is part of the reason why we celebrate the sacrament of confirmation when a person is a young adult and they are able to start adopting the Christian life for themselves. Yet we know in reality that the celebration of a sacrament can be mired in many other expectations not chosen by the person being baptised or confirmed. They can be the pressure to please older relations, to ensure a place in a good school or even because it is a tradition which keeps us connected with the spiritual side of our life even if people do not regularly attend Church.

The question that raises its head at the baptism of the Lord is what is actually going on? I believe fundamentally it is an invitation made by God into relationship with his Son. There is a witness that God cares so deeply about us that Jesus enters into our human story. This is not just a repentance of sin and dying to self but rather the planting of desire deep within us to grow in a life-giving relationship with God. In this way baptism is not just a ritual action which happens once in a person’s life but rather an opening up of the gates of heaven to how we are called to live in our everyday lives. There is a realisation that there is now no separation between us and God. This changes how we relate to God and each other. It allows us to be seen by God and to be transformed by grace. It allows us to see the world from God’s point of view and allows us to become people who grow in relationship with God and each other. We are transformed by grace so that we can live with hope, faith and love. Our lives are now no longer solely our own but immersed in the person of Christ who seeks us out. In this way we become people who cooperate with God’s grace in our daily lives.

Fr. John Armstrong

Fr John’s Reflection – Epiphany of the Lord

Epiphany of the Lord – 5th January

. . .

How do we use our time and money?

With the Feast of the Epiphany approaching we are able to notice how the wise men lay down their gifts at the feet of Jesus. What I particularly notice about this story is not just their generosity but also their gentleness to give thanks to God in the place they had not expected to visit. They had thought that their wisdom and knowledge would have been acknowledged in the halls of the powerful but instead were led to a stable. They thought that their gifts would win them favour by appearing appropriate to celebrate the birth of a King, yet they found that they knelt at a crib. They thought that they would do the most appropriate and relevant thing but found that they needed to return home by a different way never to be heard of again. The urge to be powerful, spectacular and relevant can linger in our own hearts. Yet often we find that we can appear powerless, ordinary and mundane. We do not have all the answers, but we can seek to live the question of where do we find Christ in our everyday lives?

The three gifts that we bring before God each day are our money, our treasure and our concerns. This may seem pretty obvious but our bank accounts, our diaries and our priorities shape who we become and what we consider important. They are a visible record of who we are becoming and what we notice. They can be a useful guide to observing what we say is important and how we actually place the emphasis of our lives. They become a theological statement of how God is present at the heart of our lives and who we truly follow. Each day presents the opportunity to notice what is enlivening our hearts or what is consuming us. We too are called to live our lives in a way which allows us to centre on the direction that God wishes us to follow.  We discover that our lives can be Good News for ourselves and for others. We start to become aware of how God shapes our world and invites our response in a way which seeks faith, hope and love.

My thoughts at this time go out to the many communities who have been affected by bush fires. I am very conscious of the fires on the coast of Victoria and New South Wales. Having lived through the fires that ravaged Canberra in 2003 I am aware of not just the immediate impact of loss of homes but also the trauma which lingers longer than the smoke.  The devastation that has occurred around Lake Conjola, Mallacoota, Batemans Bay, Mogo and Cobargo is hard to comprehend. The rebuilding of infrastructure and the rebuilding of lives go hand in hand. The next week will not be easy as many of the things we take for granted like shelter, power, food, and water will need to be re-established. We pray for those men and women who often perform this work, often unseen and in difficult circumstances. We pray for their safety and for the communities they serve. Often it is this dedication which defines the human spirit to live your life for others. May we all be able to notice that our lives are built on a solid foundation of seeking out the good in all things especially when immediate circumstances can seem to render us powerless. As we enter into 2020 may we review where we spend our money and time which indicate what we consider most important.

Fr. John Armstrong

OMCC Bulletin

November – December 2019