27th Sunday of Ordinary Time – 6th October
Our faith starts from where we are and the place where we encounter Christ. This call to follow him is not just a private endeavour or a personal preference but rather a living response to how Christ calls us to follow. Often, we can feel that when we are perfectly formed, well educated and have our lives together that we will meet God. Yet the contrary is true. God meets us in the midst of our daily lives when we are working hard when we are finding it difficult to find spare time to be by ourselves and when the demands of daily living seem to mount up like a wall of water around us. The focus on the immediate and our availability is tested by many things.
However, the still quiet voice of God rings out in the midst of this seeming never-ending activity. It calls us to bear witness to the Good News not at a time when it is convenient but in the middle of what seems to hold our attention. This is not one of compulsion but rather a loving voice which creates a response in a way which is present to people with grace and power. This is the ability to respond with a loving heart. Nothing is foreign to God yet in all situations he calls us to hear his voice and not harden our hearts.
This level of faithfulness is not just generated by a stoic resistance to the events of life but rather slow, patient anticipation of the unfolding of God’s vision. Even when world events proclaim doom and disaster we are called to respond with mercy and grace. In an age where we can be provoked to make a response based on the latest headline or the most recent news report. This steady and careful gazing at what is real allows us to be contemplatives who take action for the good of others, for the good of ourselves and the good of God. In all things, we seek to be people who seek silence, stillness and solitude which touches that which brings life and Good News to our world.
Fr. John Armstrong
26th Sunday of Ordinary Time – 29th September
In our post-modern age, we often live as though our world is empty and meaningless and where we are called to define our own meaning. Things become what we want them to be rather than what they are. There is a sense in which this retreat away from reality stands in stark contrast to even our understanding of the natural world which underpins much of our scientific research and our theological thought about the source of all life. Things, when viewed solely by their utility rather than by their essence, lead us into unchartered waters where we start to view something as having value and worth if it is useful to ourselves. This causes us to act in a way which is centred solely on what we need for this moment and this day and ignores both the physical and spiritual reality that at the heart of life we have a connection with God which shapes how we become stewards of all creation.
Hence, when we close our hearts and our minds to the reality of the world we live in and focus solely on what we need for the moment we can rob others of the vitality with which they need to live. It can cause us to look for what will make us wealthy, successful and relevant at the expense of others and future generations. We can become driven by immediate concerns rather than looking to that which can sustain life in all its beauty and diversity. When we look solely at what we own, the power that we possess and the status we have achieved we have an ability to divide people into categories: rich and poor; liberal and conservative; citizens and refugees; the haves and have nots. Such divisions are based on artificial constructs some of which are based on birth, opportunity and identity. They can cause us to see others solely through the prism of the label we put upon them rather than as people equal in dignity and worth. When we lose our sense of humanity we live on shifting sand for it would be too easy for us to lose what is essential to life, the fact that we are created in the image and likeness of God. Wealth, power and success can become illusory and can be stripped from us by sickness, unemployment, failure and ultimately by death. We can actually construct a philosophy devoid of hope, which lacks faith and denies charity rather than a philosophy which proclaims life in all its wonder and diversity.
In seeking to discover who we are called to become we need to listen to the heart of God which beats through all creation. This is a recognition that we are not called to just use our environment as we please but rather as a stewardship entrusted to us by God. This starts not only with how we treat each other but how we seek to care for the environment in which we live for the good of God and the good of each other. We are not called to live as aliens in a strange land who seek escape from reality either through denial or apocalyptic rhetoric. We are called to be a living witness that God created all things and sustains them in being. We are called to be co-creators who seek to live that vision which we encounter in the person of Jesus Christ. This way of life seeks us to be present in our current situation with grace. We seek the truth of life by reflecting on what challenges we face and what moves us into action. We seek to discover how our life changes through these encounters in a way which lies at the core of who we are. As people on a pilgrimage, we are called to travel with each other by acknowledging that each of our stories interweaves with the divine story. We are not called to be people removed from our current reality but people who live an incarnate faith which engages with the way we live in our world and creates a way of life which professes what we believe.
Fr. John Armstrong
25th Sunday of Ordinary Time – 22nd September
The news programs are often timed to occur at the traditional times when people would gather from prayer at morning, noon and evening. These hours seek to let us know issues of importance which are occurring in the world and in our local community. Often what we are presented with is a surfeit of information which can have an impact on our lives but over which we are powerless to change. There can be a sense that we are formed to receive but not engage with the reality of life. Even when we see events occurring in the world we become observers, not participants, in issues which create the world we live in. We stand by the sidelines cheering or shouting but not being personally moved in a particular direction.
Yet the Good News takes a very different approach which seeks for us to discover the person who can make a personal difference to our community and to the way we live. This is not based on how much we own, what status we have received or even whether our opinions mirror those of everybody else. Rather it asks the question, on what foundation do I lay my life? Whom do we trust to give us meaning and purpose? Do I measure my life on my material value or my eternal values? Depending on how we answer these questions will become the focus of how we live our lives. Do I seek to engage with God with my whole being which influences the way I act in my relationships with others or do I engage with what I own which shapes how I seek to build walls around myself to protect my stuff?
These are fundamental questions that we need to answer especially in the light of recent debates around abortion, climate change, relationships, gender identity, refugees, and migration. It determines how we see ourselves as human persons in relationship to God and to each other. When we seek to redefine what is truly human on our own terms without reference to the reality that we are made in God’s image and likeness, we can start to treat others in a way which seeks our greatest utility, what is convenient to use and our own immediate needs. People become a means to an end or rather can become treated as objects to be used or rejected. Our economy of life is built solely on ourselves.
Yet the divine economy sees us drawn into God’s plans for the whole of creation which sees us as co-creators. We are not isolated from the life which can sustain all life. We start to see God in all things. It helps us to see the human person from conception to natural death in a new way. It helps us to engage in relationships which seek to provide for the needs of others, especially those in great need. It does not see life as expendable or the life of another as disposable depending solely on our choice. The value is that we see the creator at the heart of all creation and us as stewards of the life entrusted to us. Our life sings with the glory of God and not a staccato beat which jars the senses based solely on our own sense of rhythm. Our lives have eternal value and worth which draw us into relationships which sustain each other and are sustained by our being drawn into the mystery of God.
Fr. John Armstrong
24th Sunday of Ordinary Time – 15th September
There has been much debate over recent months since the Royal Commission on the sacrament of confession and about the seal of confession. Many jurisdictions have enacted laws or are proposing laws to mandate what is heard in this sacramental setting as reportable if a person confesses to having abused a child to the priest. The question has largely focussed on what is being confessed and who it is being confessed to. In the civil understanding, the knowledge is revealed to another human being whereas in the sacramental understanding the priest acts in the name of Christ and so that the person is bearing their soul to God. I think what lies at the heart of the issue is whether a person is truly penitent and therefore able to take responsibility for their actions before God and before the Christian community. A person should never approach confession solely for their own good but out of genuine desire to reform their lives and to be open to being transformed by God. The sacrament should never be seen as cheap grace or a get out of jail free card! The fruits of a good confession should prompt a person to care for others and not just for themselves. It is never just about the healing of the individual but the healing of the whole community.
So how do we assist a person to make the first steps towards a good confession and a penitential life? I think that we should not see a good confession just as a private act which a person undertakes solely for their own redemption. This is not just about having a private conversation with God but a place where we consider how our actions have both seen and unseen consequences on those around us. These can either cause harm or benefit the life of another. This is where we need to reflect the orientation of our life and the direction in which we are heading. When we look at the younger son we see a person who wants to have all the benefits of the Good News on his terms rather than with the closeness of a loving relationship with God. In a similar way, the older son sees himself as slaving for the Father but lacks the insight of what this relationship means. He lives in the same house but also the closeness of that loving relationship alludes him. The difference is that the Father looks out for both of them and takes the initiative. He provides the grace necessary for us to take the initiative to reach out to those who may seem lost or even to ourselves, when the focus is on an open squandering of the gifts or the critical judgment of others. God enables us to be attentive to that need for mercy, healing and forgiveness.
I feel that the deeper question that our community faces is how do we see reconciliation as a communal activity rather than just a private matter. At the heart of this activity is the seeking of the will of God which brings healing to our communities. This is more than just an attitudinal shift which seeks the restoration of what has been lost but rather the development of a reconciled heart. Much has been done to ensure that our communities become places where children can grow to maturity in safety but there is a deeper call to encounter a God who transforms our lives to heal and be healed from the harm that lies in the human heart. This is never about just pious intentions but a genuine desire to allow God’s grace to be discovered and lived. Without it, we will live in quiet desperation looking for a person who can rescue us for ourselves rather than reaching out for the person who can restore us into full communion. It will rely more on our efforts rather than God’s promptings to be reconciled and reconcilers.
Fr. John Armstrong
23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time – 8th September
Planning is an essential part of life. It calls us to seek out a vision which inspires us into action and also to review the place from which we begin the journey. Nobody starts life from ground zero even when we have the desire to make all things new. We are formed not only by our own development but also by the history and the community in which we live. Our relationships are created by recognising that we are living stones, not dead weight which is the burden of our circumstances. We start to recognise that what we build on is not just an infrastructure created by an institution but a living hope to encounter what we most value in our community.
Yet as Christians we are more than bricks and mortar. We are called to recognise that we are flesh and blood. This is essential if we are to live the Christian life. It is always too easy to focus on the material and tangible outcomes rather than on who we seek to become as disciples. We notice this even in our Churches and related institutions where the first order of business is given to finances, policies and procedures. These are all necessary but they should flow from whom we seek to become rather than consuming the majority of our energy. They should seek to be tools not masters of our destiny. The first order of business which Jesus addresses to his disciples and then Paul addresses to Philemon is the desire to surrender all to Christ. This is the sense of being available and directed by the spirit of God in all things.
Yet, in seeking to discern where we are led, we grapple with the reality of our own humanity. We seek a pearl of practical wisdom which sees dimly the glory of God in our daily lives. God works with us not against us in making the first step from what we know about ourselves and what we know about others. It is this relational aspect which helps us to see our life as a gift which is to be lived for God and for others. Our lives are not formed solely by our own works but rather by how those works reveal the fundamental life-giving relationship which is their source. People are formed by this relationship rather than carefully prepared programs or projects which we can initiate out of our own desires. God calls us to seek together that which leads to peace in our own hearts and the hearts of our community. What God seeks is for us to surrender our whole selves in the service of the Kingdom. This should be the foundation on which we build which is the living heartbeat of God and the way our lives echo that rhythm in our own lives.
Fr. John Armstrong
22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time – 1st September
What am I doing this for? This question can loom large in life when we seek to discover what the result may be for all our effort. We can consider whether the goal is worth devoting our energy to and whether the reward is really worth it. The emphasis is on engaging in a particular task for the hope of a promised or anticipated reward. This makes common sense, in many fields of life we are called to discover what we want to spend our life doing. Yet the problem is that once we have achieved one thing we start to feel a sense of dissatisfaction and start to look for a new endeavour. Our life can easily become a to-do list which we tick off at the end of each day.
The readings for this weekend promise a deeper reality about how we can find a place within side ourselves where we discover a God who calls us to be humble and at home. When we hear the word humility we can start to react strongly against it for fear that it will diminish our abilities or limit our choices. Yet Jesus points to a very different reality that we are not the centre of the universe and that our spiritual journey is not a pilgrimage we make on our own. He points to a connection between our prayer, our environment and our actions. This is not just about seeking the best for ourselves but seeking an outcome which is good for those who are considered to be on the margins of our society. Jesus does broaden our vision beyond narrow self-interest to a more global perspective where each person is seen as daughter and son of God. This is a vision which sees that the realm of God is proclaimed and we live in a world where our actions are directed towards living out that in vision.
What this calls us to consider each day is how we examine how God has been guiding us in each day and how ready we are to respond to those promptings. The focus then seeks to discover how we live each day in a communion of faith which embodies the Gospel. Our way of living changes to see what we are called to become. In this becoming, we start to notice the way to live and act differently. The Gospel is no longer words written in scripture but words written on our hearts and translated into action by our lives.
Fr. John Armstrong
21st Sunday of Ordinary Time – 25th August
Whenever we meet a new person often the first questions reflect what we consider important about life. Hence the most universal questions in the western world are what do you do and where do come from? What quickly follows are incidental questions about where do they live and more specific questions about their family, education and their interests. These all help us to gain an understanding of what forms the background of the person. Yet what they do not tell us is who they are and what they think. These more intimate questions come as we build trust with the person and cause us to engage with them in a way which is not just a collection of facts. We are called to experience who they are and what forms them to be the person they are.
In a similar way, our understanding of the person cannot just be engaged from a textbook or someone else’s reflection on their life. No matter how deep the insight, we are called to recognise that what intrigues us about the person cannot be learnt by hearsay or by second-hand reflection by another. This is especially important when we encounter the person of Jesus in prayer. He needs to meet us as a real person, we are called day by day to set aside time for us to be with him and to discover the ways in which he is present to us. This calls us to make a priority for this reflective time which we are called to consider as central to our Christian life. This is not just about finding the “right” method of prayer but rather a heart to heart meeting of what we consider central to who we are. We need to discover what satisfies and sustains us in a relationship which is pivotal to who we are called to become. By discovering this place of self-knowledge we encounter God who motivates us and sustains us.
This is where we need to discover the language in which God most easily communicates with us. What moves us into action and helps us to understand the universal call to respond to the Good News. By pondering on how we are in daily life and reflecting on what brings us life we move closer to God’s purpose and mission. This is not just engaged with as isolated individuals but as a communion which enables us to be drawn into solidarity of faith. It builds on a tradition which is ever ancient and ever new. The life-giving spirit which in every age challenges us to be faithful to the Word that dwells within us. Each day we are called to become more the person God has loved into being by reflecting that love in our prayer, study and action. In this way, our life becomes centred on God who seeks to draw us closer. This mystery is not just a one-way street but rather a pilgrimage where we discover who we are. As we walk by the way we discover the person who walks close by our side and helps us to notice who we truly are.
Fr. John Armstrong
There are many how-to books that we can buy in the bookshops or borrow from the library. They seek to give examples of how the author has adopted a certain method which they wish to apply to how we should live, how this will be successful for another. The temptation to swallow another person’s life whole is alluring especially when a person appears on talk shows and appears on radio slots which promote what they have to sell. Yet like all advice, it has to be tested in the marketplace and pondered in our prayer. While we can turn to the wisdom of others we need to see what moves us to become who we truly are. We have to discover what sets our lives on fire with faith, hope and love. This cannot just be kindled by another’s insight but only through our own willingness to engage with the relationship which will lead us closer to God and the mission entrusted to us. The goal of our life is not so much a task to be completed but a relationship which is to be sustained. It is in this relationship that we discover our own unique calling which will help others to discover who they are called to be.
In our own age, there is an increasing recognition that the call to live a life which is faithful to God and to others is becoming more complex. This is not just about living private lives which see our faith as being only about our own self-improvement. Our faith calls us to give witness that at the heart of all life God creates us for a good purpose. This is why we seek to create a culture of life which sustains people from conception to birth into eternal life. In a culture which increasingly seeks to treat human life as a commodity rather than a gift, we can lose a sense of hospitality which welcomes life. When we start to see life as disposable or consumable then our sense of values change. We measure people by their usefulness and convenience rather than by their fundamental dignity and worth. By realising that Christ calls us to an incarnate way of living we see that each person is both body and spirit. This changes how we live and what we stand for in caring for others. This is especially important when we seek to protect the lives of the most vulnerable. Our culture and our society are shaped by how we give a voice to those who have no voice of their own.
Fr. John Armstrong
19th Sunday of Ordinary Time – 11th August
Listen! I have been reflecting over the last month on how our relationship with God is fundamental not only to our prayer but the way we live. I think some of the difficulties that we find in our prayer are that we concentrate on whether we are achieving a closeness which permeates all our interactions. There is often a trusting solely in our own efforts or in seeking a silver bullet which will make sense of who we are seeking to enter into a relationship with. Often these can have echoes of the first question asked by the disciples where they approach Jesus and ask where do you live and he says come and see. This is where our searching for God becomes an activity that we undertake amidst many other activities. We acknowledge its importance but somehow we are the person who chooses when and where we will pray and what will be at the forefront of our lives. Yet as we enter deeper into prayer we recognise interplay between what we consider important and what God considers is important. While we can be engaged in many things which help us to know about God at the heart of our prayer God wishes to know us. The gentle art of letting down our defences and taking off our masks to be truly known can cause us fear and anxiety wondering if we are truly known will we ever be the same. Yet in reaching out to us God helps us to discover it is from this place of being truly known as our true self that we can discover the call which is unique to each person. God calls us to be ourselves and in knowing ourselves we discover what it is that we can devote our lives to. Ultimately this is at the heart of the pilgrimage journey that we take. We are called to be companioned along the way where we discover the God who walks with us. Rather than searching outside ourselves for this relationship, he draws us deeper into the place that God already calls home. We are not called to be aliens in a foreign land but rather fellow travellers who accompany each other on the way. As Jesus concludes when Thomas asks him what he is called to do Jesus points to himself and says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” By searching each day for where God is always present we can see that God’s grace is not beyond our reach or outside the realm in which we live. He walks with us, talks with us and breaks bread with us. May your hearts burn within you as you listen to His voice.
Fr. John Armstrong